A Year in Korea – The Early Days


The Early Days

I spent a year in Korea from December 1968 to December 1969. It was, to be sure, one of the most life changing and wonderful experiences of my life. But how did I get to Korea?

December of 1967 saw me failing miserably at Boston University. I had done really well in my last two years of high school and graduated 19th in my class. I had gotten early admittance to Boston University, they had accepted me in early November 1966. I thought I had finally gotten my academic act together and was ready. But in truth, those last two years of high school were highly structured which had aided in my exceling where I had formerly failed. When I got to college, and the structure ceased to exist, I lapsed back into my old ways. In truth, I did not know how to study and did not know how to ask for help. I knew in December 1968 I could not continue.

I had heard of a program the U.S. Army was offering to select young men to go to Warrant Officer Flight School. It required testing extremely well in the Army’s basic testing program and then getting a high score in their “flight aptitude test.” I did both and fairly easily too. All I had to do was pass the army physical and I was in.

On February 19, 1968, I was sworn into the U.S. Army and the next day put on a flight to attend basic combat training at Fort Polk Louisiana. I had never been further south than Baltimore Maryland and so Louisiana proved a mild culture shock. I grew up in the lily-white community of North Andover Massachusetts. In high school, we did have one black student. He was an exchange student the Unitarian Church had brought from Africa to study in the U.S. When I transferred to school in New Jersey, Bordentown Military Institute, I came into contact with both black and Hispanic Americans for the first time. But my home town, God bless it, had welcomed our exchange student with open arms and he quickly became very popular. And so it never occurred to me that race made any difference in anything.

My basic training was actually rather uneventful. That was until April 4th when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Leesville, the closest town to Fort Polk, erupted into riots and all off-post passes were canceled. I did not know who King was really, but the black man in the bunk next to mine broke down and cried.

A few weeks later I graduated from Basic Training and was put on a bus with four other soldiers on our way to Fort Wolters Texas for basic flight training. I made it through the first four weeks of what was called “pre-flight” when I developed a horrendous case of allergies and had to take Actifed to keep them at bay. The flight surgeon, however, informed me that as long as I took the Actifed I could not fly and so my brief flirtation with the flight school ended. I was washed out.

The army had to figure out what to do with me next and they took their time. I got detailed to work at the Army Community Center for some reason. I do not remember the original reason but after a very short time the lieutenant in charge there asked if I would be interested in trying to teach a young Korean girl English. I said I would. No irony there huh! I actually did a pretty decent job and the girl knew enough English to enter the 5th grade, the grade she would have been in in Korea.

My orders came down and I was assigned to the signal school at Fort Gordon Georgia. I was there from August until my graduation in mid-November when I received my orders assigning me to Korea. It being Thanksgiving week I was given a 10 day leave before I had to report to Fort Lewis Washington for transport to Korea.

On January 23, 1968, the North Koreans captured the ship and crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo. I do not know the entire story behind the Pueblo but my best guess is it was a spy ship used by the CIA or other government agencies. I do remember, strangely, the ship’s commander, Captain Lloyd Bucher being demonized in the U.S. press for allowing his ship to be captured and not scuttling it as was the standing order. My take on it was that had he sunk it, he would have had to do so in North Korean waters and therefor validated the North Korean’s claims. What I did not know was that the “Pueblo Incident,” as it was called, would come into play again but this time while I was on duty in Korea.

As best I can remember, my flight to Korea, taken in the first few days of December, lasted some 16 hours and was routed via Tokyo. The flight itself was not in the lease memorable but once the front door opened up on the Korean landscape I was greeted we a scent in the air that was a mix of alien scents. Part of it was burning wood and part was, I learned later, human waste which was ever-present in the nearby rice patties, so I was told.

We were quickly ushered into a tent where we were met by an army nurse who commanded that we drop our drawers. A doctor came by and gave each of us something called a gamma-globulin shot which was a cocktail of vaccines meant to keep us from contracting yellow fever and malaria. There were probably some other diseases included but I never knew. The sergeants laughed at us as we boarded our bus for the replacement depot. The shot was supposed to make us so sore that sitting would be difficult. I felt a little soreness, but not enough to really bother me.

I did not last long at the replacement depot because my final destination had been determined long before I ever left the United States. I was assigned to US Army Stratcom Company C Long Line Battalion in Yongsan Korea. Yongsan is a northern suburb of Seoul. But while I was at the repo depot, as it was called, I got my first taste of army milk. It tasted, funny. There is no way to describe it but I was told that in was reconstituted milk. I found the chocolate milk to be much more tolerable than the white milk so whenever chocolate milk was available, which was almost always, I drank it.

Once in Yongsan I was housed at a small army camp known as Camp Coiner. It was us, the 304th signal battalion (a field/combat unit). In the late 1960s, Camp Coiner was a collection of Quonset Huts which held about 20 men each. In the winter, the hut was heated by a single kerosene stove in its middle and in the summer, it was air conditioned by keeping the doors at either end open. There was no plumbing in these huts. We had to cross the street to a cinder block building which held both toilets and showers. There was one rule: when you were about to flush the toilet, you had to warn those in the showers of what you were about to do else they would be scalded by the loss of cold water.

I was just 19-years-old when I arrived in Korea and the culture shock was huge. I had an ace in the hole, however. Prior to my leaving for Korea I had met a Korean family living in North Andover who put me in contact with their relatives living in Seoul.

I worked at the 8th U.S. Army Headquarters communications center at the main garrison in Yongsan. But to get there, we had to leave Camp Coiner and enter the Itaewon district briefly before going through a gate to the main garrison. These gates were heavily guarded, of course. In those days, there was a curfew when all soldiers had to be at their barracks, if not at work, between the hours of midnight and 5AM. For the foolish soldier to be caught outside of his compound come midnight, his only recourse was to shack up with one of the local prostitutes who were legion. Sad to say that happened to me one time and for the great sum of 75 cents, that was actually all the money I had, one of the prostitutes took me in. The shame I felt in the morning was huge and I must have showed for half an hour trying to get the imagined dirt off me. After all, I was a good Catholic boy from a good family and I had one this! Shame!

From the time I reached Korea until the day I left I generally worked 12-hour days which ran either from 11AM to 11PM or vice versa. It was a time of war, even in Korea, and we seldom were at full strength which meant one soldier had to do the job of 2 much of the time.

I was in Korea for just a few weeks, Christmas was upon us, and our company commander asked for volunteers to help take food and gifts to a Korean orphanage we supported. I was quick to volunteer, always liked a new adventure. And this would prove one of my more unforgettable adventures ever.

On the day of our trip we were told to check out our M-16 rifles and told that we would be accompanied by an MP jeep with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on it at the front of the convoy and another at the rear. We were heading to a location very close to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone, which in those days was a very dangerous place. And this particular part of the DMZ was not watched over by our troops.

I did not think much of it all and just took it in stride. After all, we were on a good-will mission bring cheer to orphaned children. What I did not realize was that I would be learning a hard lesson in Korean culture on that day.

The orphanage was a single-story cinder block structure of only 3 or 4 rooms, to the best of my memory. And there were only a handful of children there, maybe 20, who were taken care of by Catholic nuns. I do not remember much of what happened that day because of one thing I saw which haunts me to this day. We had been informed that Korean orphans back then where at the lowest rung of the food chain in Korea. They were outcasts having all been born of illicit sexual congresses. Every child but one would easily pass a fully Korean when they became adults and would probably find their way. But my eyes fell upon one little girl who had blonde hair and blue eyes but spoke only Korean. At that moment, a piece of my heart was ripped from me and has never been return. I wanted to do something for her, to save her, but there was nothing I could do and it left an emptiness in me that still exists today. What chance does she have was the recurring question I had. Anytime I think I have it bad I am reminded of her and I know how good I have it.

I do not remember anything more about that trip and our visit. The little girl dominates my memory and does not allow for any other memories.

Korea is a Buddhist country, of course, and so there were no signs of Christmas anywhere. I do not even remember Christmas 1968 but I suspect I worked that day. It was not unusual for us to work 6 or 7 days in a row with but a single day off.

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Vietnam Era Veterans; All Veterans Remembered


I am a Vietnam Era vet. I did not serve in Vietnam as I was sent to Korea. And that turned out to be a bit of a hot zone all by itself, though Americans had little if any knowledge of that. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When I joined the army, I was sworn in February 19, 1968, the Vietnam war had taken a dark turn for Americans. Earlier that month the Viet Cong mounted what is known as the Tet offensive. Tet is the Vietnamese New Year. Americans let their guard down figuring the Vietnamese would be busy celebrating Tet, their new year. Contrary to what people were told in America, the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong were very smart and very savvy. They hoped we would let our guard down so they could spring a surprise attack of large proportions, and that is what happened. Starting on January 31 they attacked over 100 South Vietnamese cities and nearly overwhelmed many American strongholds. Hue, Danang and even Saigon were attacked. The Marines at Hue were nearly overrun and suffered nearly 700 casualties.

But who were the men who were fighting in Vietnam? All branches of the armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and the U.S. Coast Guard too, who in those days fell under the auspices of the Treasury Department. A very large portion of those in Vietnam were draftees even though some were never formally drafted. Many guys waited for the draft notice to show up and went for induction. But others with the knowledge that they were probably next, gave in and enlisted just prior to their likely drafting. Then there were the poor. The army was filled with a disproportionate number of blacks, mostly poor, mostly poorly educated. To them, the army seemed like a good deal. Then there were the white kids like me who, lacking direction, enlisted because we did not know what else to do but also because our fathers had fought in World War 2 and it seemed like the right thing to do.

When I arrive for my basic combat training at Fort Polk Louisiana, I discovered there were four identifiable groups of men, those who had signed up known as RAs, those who were drafted known as USs, those who signed up for the reserves, ERs, and those who joined their state’s national guard, NGs. The two letter codes were the letters that preceded our soldier’s identification number, for example, I enlisted and my number was RA11625182. Some things you never forget. But had I been a draftee the RA letters would have had US substituted. And since we all had to recite our number many times in the early days, we knew what every man had chosen.

A tour in Vietnam was mandated by law to last no longer than 12 months. This meant there was a high turnover of personnel going and coming to and from Vietnam. But there was also this country called Korea which also had a maximum 12-month tour. From 1964 to 1975 over 9 million men in uniform served in Vietnam, 58,145 died there. And here is a stunning fact: over the 4 years an infantryman served in WW2, he saw about 40 days of combat. Over the 1 year an infantryman served in Vietnam, he saw about 240 days of combat. It is small wonder so many came back so screwed up.

The infantry training at Fort Polk, in those days, was rough. The drill sergeants were charged with bringing together a very disparate group of men into a single fighting force. One of their most successful ways of doing that was to pit us against each other. I was in Company B, 5 Battalion, 1st Training brigade. I was in what was called the “Yankee Platoon.” We were men from north of the Mason-Dixon line of course. Then there were two southern platoons and finally one “misfit” platoon. The misfits were from states like California which were not easily grouped. The drill sergeants showed great favoritism towards the southern platoon in large part because every one of them hailed from the south. The drill sergeant assigned to my platoon was from Texas. Our company command was from Alabama and his executive officer was from Georgia. But a funny thing happened during those 8 weeks, we all came together. Any sort of divisions which existed at the start of basic training disappeared along the dusty roads were we force marched along. Their plan worked magnificently. On graduation day a full 95% of the men of our company were loaded onto the back of cattle trucks and taken to “Tiger Land.” Tiger Land was the advanced infantry training course with an emphasis on tactics used in Vietnam with a faux Vietnamese village to boot. I had gotten myself into helicopter training school so that was not in my future. But for as much as those drill sergeants yelled at us “Charlie’s gonna get you!”, Charlie being a euphemism for the North Vietnamese army, I do not remember a single conversation regarding the possibility we could die over there.

The American forces in Korea in 1968-1969 number in excess of 50,000 troops. There were two full infantry divisions, 2nd and the 7th. And there were countless support units. I was stationed a mere 25 miles from the DMZ and had change to travel in its proximity on several occasions. Places known as Camp Humphries, Camp Casey, Camp Red Cloud and others we each an armed camp unto themselves. They were armed because there was always the very real threat of a North Korean incursion into the south which actually happened though in small numbers. Still, anything north of the Han River was considered a combat zone and many an infantryman in Korea saw his share of combat, as did some of the field artillery units. Remember, this was the time when North Korea captured the USS Pueblo and shot down a US Air Force EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft.

During my tour in Korea a fair number of American soldiers were killed in action by North Korean soldiers but most of that was never reported.  Few new of that war zone.  Those tasked with guarding the frontier were under the constant threat of an attack from the north.  North Korea regularly lobbed artillery shells into the south.  A lieutenant who was inspecting the DMZ was cut to pieces by a machete wielding North Korean soldier.  America seemed to have forgotten that even 15 years after a truce was declared, it remained a truce in those days and that truce was violated by the north of many occasions.  American soldiers died and no one knew.

As for Vietnam, on April 30, 1969, there were 543,482 men station there at one time. But one thing was consistent for the soldier in Vietnam, his short-time calendar. A “short-time calendar” was the outline of a naked woman with 365 squares, or what passed for squares, within her body. You filled in one day waiting impatiently for that day you could call yourself a “short-timer.” A short-time was someone who had 99 days or less of time to serve. You got to call yourself a 2-digit-midget because you were getting so close. Sadly, stories abounded of guys who were within two weeks of rotating back to the U.S. only to be killed. Everyone knew such a story and some even knew the guy. Such things wreaked havoc on the psyche’ of the young soldier. Many came back so damaged, not just physically, that putting them back together was an impossible job. It wasn’t until either very late in the war or in the first few years following it that the term PTSD came into being. The VA and Army hospitals overflowed with men so damaged that it was felt they would never be right. I knew of at least 2 such individuals. One put a gun to his head and the other had a heart attack at the young age of 34. He had yelled at the VA that he had been sprayed with agent orange but that fell on deaf ears.

If you want a good picture of the army in those days first watch “The Boys of Company C” which will give you an excellent view of basic training during Vietnam and then watch “Good Morning Vietnam.” Each in its own way does justice to what really happened, to the tensions which existed, the horror of war, and how boys were forced to become men literally overnight.

About 90% of the men who served in Vietnam never saw any combat but it did not free them from the horrors of the war. No one was ever very far from a medivac hospital where surgery was frequently done in what would be considered unsterile conditions but the surgery being needed in such an immediate fashion, the doctors had no choice. These doctors and nurses suffered greatly as they attempted, too many times in vain, to put back together the wounded soldiers, and to provide some sort of reason and solace for those of his friends when the soldier died. The rock group, Country Joe and the Fish, came out with a song in 1968 which had a line that went “then it’s one two three four, what are we fighting for, don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.” That was the sentiment of the soldiers in those days. We don’t know why we are here but we will do the best job we can.

While in Vietnam there were phrase such as “back in the world” which meant back at home, and round eyes, which meant American girls. The soldiers had created a language peculiar to their environment which helped them deal with what they were up against. Many of those soldier had never traveled more than 100 miles from home and now they were in a country so alien to them, that fitting in was impossible so they worked hard just to get by. Soldiers received no training about the customs of Vietnam nor what to expect of the general population. It was all on the job training.

Guy did not do marijuana in Vietnam. Why would they when they could get the more potent form of cannabis known as hash, of Thai Stick. Much stronger in content it allowed many troops to escape the horror of the day. And there were those who found solace in the all too prevalent heroin.  And what did the military do about those problems? Virtually nothing. They were too busy fighting a war than to consider the welfare of their men.

Soldier returned to America in large numbers from 1968 to 1972. But they found no welcome mat, no parades, no gestures of kindness. Americans knew the war was ugly and they wanted to distance themselves from it. They did this by ignoring the returning troops. They turned a blind eye to the problems the troops returned with. They did this because of their collected guilt.

It was well-known that the upper middle-class and the upper class did not serve, or if they did, they found comfy jobs in Washington or in Germany. Their service would have been good except that they took extraordinary measures to insure that the Department of Defense would not mistakenly assign them to Vietnam.

If nothing else, the War in Vietnam should have taught us what not to do, which skirmishes to stay away from, and to let people pitted against themselves the space to work out their issues. But we did not do that. Iraq 1 seemed a necessity and I have no issue with it. But Iraq 2 was a pure boondoggle. In Vietnam we said we were preventing the expansion of Communism. In Iraq we were supposedly going after weapons of mass destruction. In each case not only was the premise faulty, but our actions were and are virtually defenseless. But once again, the American soldier has been asked to do far more than is right. Our armed forces have been decimated by repeated reductions in force to where once again soldiers are being asked to do more than their psyche can handle, and it shows in the returning troops.

One thing which has changed for the better, it is common to hear the phrase, “thank you for your service.” But as nice as those words are to hear, they do not heal the injured psyche, and that remains an all too prevalent problem.

All who serve, by the nature of the oath they take, promise to put their life on the line in defense of our Constitution and our country. No other job requires this of a person. A truly grateful nation will take care of all its veterans to whatever extent is needed, but that is not happening. Too many veterans come back to no jobs and no prospects. Too many come back severely broken, are patched up and pushed back into society long before they are ready. If America wants to show how it is truly grateful for the service of all veterans, it will do whatever is necessary to insure a safe and secure future for them. It will find the reasons they turn to drugs and sometime crime and resolve those issues. It will make Veteran’s Day more than just a national holiday, it will treat it with the same respect as Christmas gets, only necessary people work that day and all others take a day to remember those who put their lives in danger so that we can live feeling safe and secure.

Reflections of a Veteran on Veterans Day


As United States holidays go, Veteran’s Day is one of the newest. As a holiday by this name, it came into being in 1954. Prior to that, Veterans Day was known as Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War 1. World War 1 officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Shortly afterward President Wilson declared November 11th a national holiday. Then World War 2 happened followed by the Korean War. As a veteran, President Eisenhower decided that rather than remembering a peace treaty for a single war, the day would be better served by recognizing the service of everyone who had ever served in the Armed Forces of the United States. But there are two additional groups of veterans who did not serve within the Defense Department who are also veterans and they are the members of the Coast Guard and the Merchant Marines. The Merchant Marines were a vital force during World War 2 transporting goods and troops to the European Theater of War. And the Coast Guard, whose primary mission is the protection of the U.S. Coast lines, was deployed to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam among other missions.

I entered the U.S. Army on February 19, 1968 and served on active duty until November 10, 1979. After that I served in the Massachusetts National Guard for several years. My years of service in the U.S. Army are many of my proudest moments in life. I am the son of a World War 2 veteran, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa, Italy, and France. Two of my daughters are veterans as well. My eldest served as a U.S. Army Nurse in Kosovo and my next daughter has served in the U.S. Air Force in both active and reserve duty. She is still serving.

I am of the Vietnam era which many view as a low point of the U.S. history in war. But this needs to be put into perspective. All military forces, not just American, are a natural extension of a country’s political system and honors the decisions of the country’s political leadership. My experience in the Army is that we never discussed politics except maybe to criticize what we viewed a lack of support from time-to-time.   But I never once knew nor discussed the political persuasions of any of my brothers in arms. Such discussion served no purpose. I know from experience that at the highest levels of the military establishment, politics is very much a part of a soldier’s daily life but below the level of flag officers, generals and admirals, politics was generally non-existent. That was always a good thing.

All soldiers are required to complete basic combat training. Basic training is the great leveler. That is, regardless of a person’s background or appearance, the most important thing is learning how to be a soldier and what it means to serve with pride. It is a unique system found nowhere else in society, not even the police forces which copy many of the training techniques of the military. All members of the military are instilled with the concept of “duty, honor, and country.” That means that each member of the military has sworn to put his life on the line to protect his country from those who would do harm to it. This oath of allegiance has been in place since the Revolutionary War. It is an absolute and cannot be compromised.

Only the Civil War divided this country more than the war in Vietnam. When I volunteered to join the Army I did not say that I would only join if I would not be sent to Vietnam. There is no such option nor has there ever been one. Most veterans never saw combat duty but every veteran was eligible for it. I was sent to Korea in 1968 which was a war zone in those days. It was certainly not as hot as Vietnam but U.S. soldiers were still dying there. Why? Because they were doing their duty.

War does funny things to men. Greatness arises out of some of the most unexpected places. During the Civil War at the battle of Gettysburg, a former college professor from Maine, a very humble man, so distinguished himself that he became one of the first recipients of the Medal of Honor. He was Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. During World War 1, a former blacksmith and pacifist from Tennessee distinguished himself in battle to become a Medal of Honor recipient. Most recently a young man from Long Island, Lt. Michael Murphy, distinguished himself in Afghanistan to receive the Medal of Honor. Each of these men had one thing in common, they joined the service out of a sense of duty and in the worst of conditions their concern was completion of the mission and protection of their comrades. And I can assure you that none saw themselves as heroes. To a man they would tell you if asked that they were just doing their job. And in that sentiment is the common thread for all veterans. We did our job in difficult situations because it was the right thing to do and our sense of honor and patriotism were driving forces.

During my time in Korea we came under the threat of attack many times. The attack never came but maybe that was because we were there. We were enough of a deterrent. I seldom talk of my time in Korea mostly because I do not remember most of the details. But those who served in Vietnam are even more guarded in their speech. If you find a vet who served in Vietnam, the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan you will probably get a lot of resistance from them in the telling of their experiences. Why? Because war is and always has been an ugly affair. People at home hear of the deaths of soldiers and grieve them. Soldiers see the deaths of non-combatants, women and children, and mourn that. My personal experience with that came in the form of a visit to a Korean orphanage where the casualties of the ongoing conflict resided. To say it was heartbreaking is to minimalize the reality.

For 20 years following the Vietnam War the experience of veterans was something no one wanted to discuss. But the Gulf War changed that and the phrase “thank you for your service” came into being. I hope that such sentiment never goes out of fashion because as a veteran I am grateful whenever I hear it expressed. If you know a vet, give him or her a call on this Veterans Day and thank them for their service. When you see someone in uniform on the street where you are walking, thank that person for their service, after all, they have sworn to put their life on the line for you. Finally, most cities and towns in the United States have a war memorial. Take the time to visit it, look at the names listed, because they are the ones who gave their life for you.

Who Was Deborah Sampson, and Why Should We Care?


There are three words all men and women who join the military are made aware of: Duty, Honor, Country.  Men and women join the military do so for many reasons, but in the end, those who serve fully and honorably understand those words implicitly, and better than any who have never served.  This is not meant as a slight towards those who have not served, but as a point of divergance.  The idea, and ideal, of “duty, honor, country” goes back to April 19, 1775, when a few Massachusetts men bravely said, “no more!”  The knew they would either be hung as traitors to the crown, or heroes of a new country.  In those days we were largely a bunch of poorly trained, poorly armed, and raggedty bunch as has ever been seen.  There was no shortage of fear that our independence, as declared July 4, 1775, would be still-born.   Washington himself, upon arriving at Cambridge Massachusetts to review the tens of thousands of colonial soldier camped there, feared for the future.  They were ill-mannered, dirty, vulgar, and about the furthest things from a group of soldiers as could have been imagined.  But as Washington passed among these fledgeling soldiers, in support of a fledgeling cause, his six foot two frame mounted smartly upon a white stallion, and regaled in as smart a uniform as could be found in the colonies, every men paused to take measure of this man who they knew intuitively to be their new leader.  Each and every one of these men had come to fight the British regulars out of a sense of duty to their America, though such duty was more a feeling than anything yet written in words.

Image from the collections of the Massachusettts Historical Society.

The colonial army, though too oft defeated in singular battles, had clung on tenaciously, in spite of hunger, desertions, quarrels among the colonial officers.  The idea that a woman could fight as a soldier was not even a consideration, let alone a reality.  But on May 20 1782, Deborah Sampson (her image above) of Plympton Massachusetts, her breasts tied tightly to her chest, her hair cut short, and dressed as a New England farmboy, enlisted as Robert Shurtleff in the company of Captain Nathan Thayer of Medway Massachusetts.  Seven months prior to her enlistment, the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, and the October 1781 battle was the last large-scale one.  Guerilla warfare continued, however, and Sampson’s unit, the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, fought several small battles in upstate New York, especially near West Point and Tarrytown.  Sampson proved quite skillful, yet despite her ability in these hand-to-hand skirmishes, she was wounded.  In one skirmish, she received a head injury from a saber and was hit with a musket ball in the upper thigh.  She received medical attention for the head wound, but did not inform the doctor of her thigh wound for fear that her identity would be discovered.  After leaving the hospital, Sampson bravely removed the musket ball herself and went on fighting.

Sampson was one of the special soldiers selected to go to Philadelphia to defend Congress from soldiers who were upset that they had not been paid at the war’s end.  During this time, she grew sick and became unconscious due to a head fever.  The nurse thought that Sampson was dead and went to retrieve the doctor.  While searching for a heartbeat the doctor felt the wraps around Sampson’s chest and unwrapped them to inspect what he thought was an injury.  To his surprise he found that his patient was actually a woman.  Dr. Barnabus Binney decided to take her home to give her better care without revealing her identity.

Dr. Binney kept her secret, and Sampson returned with her regiment to New York.  There, General Henry Knox (who would become the nation’s first Secretary of War) honorably discharged “Robert Shurtleff” at West Point on October 25, 1783.

Sampson continued the ruse in face of talk in Stoughton Massachusetts, where she had returned to, that a woman, she, had fought in the war.  She denied such accusations.  But she was found out eventually.

Deborah Sampson Gannet (she had married Benjamin Gannet in 1785) was recognized by Massachusetts less than a decade after the war was over.  On January 19, 1792, she was awarded 34 pounds, which included the interest accumulated since her 1783 discharge.  A document praising her service was sent with the pension.  The document stated “that the said Deborah  Sampson exhibited an extraordinary instance of feminine heroism by discharging  the duties of a faithful, gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the  virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished and was discharged  from the service with a fair and honorable character.” It was signed by John Hancock.

The call to military service has always been a strange one, attracting one while repulsing another.  That call is no less plaintiff to women, as this relation has shown.  Though they were barred from any form of military service until World War 1.  Women, however, disguised as men, fought in every war until then.  The call to service is a strong one to all who answer.  It defies definition but its existence is without doubt.  Deborah Sampson, and everyone else who has answered the call, has always done so for country, and never for any political predeliction.  While war is an extension of political ambition, service, entirely unrelated, is an extension of ones duty to his, or her country.  Deborah Sampson was the first American woman hero, but far from the last.  She, like most others who have served, did so not because she had to, but because she wanted to, more, the need to.

The 2nd Korean War That Almost Happened


In 1969 I was stationed in the US Army at Yongsan South Korea.  Yongsan was, and is, the headquarters of the 8th U.S. Army as well as assigned US Air Force detachments.  I worked in the 8th Army communications facility that provided communications for the Headquarters to locations around Korea, to Japan, and to the United States.  Upon arrival it had seemed an easy enough assignment considering it was not Vietnam and no one was trying to kill me on a daily basis.  That does not mean there was no conflict at all, there was, more than most people in the U.S. ever knew about.

In February of 1968 the crew of the USS Pueblo, a naval spy ship, had been captured by the North Koreans and were held in captivity for the next 11 months, being released on December 23 1968.  Although the Korean military commands had been on heightened status, is was not perceived as grave.  Still, the South Korean government, in control of the world’s 5th largest standing army at the time, was nervous as Kim Jong Il had promised to invade the south and reunite the countries by force.  All South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 60, at the time, were either on active duty with the military or in the reserves.  Each considered war likely, and some even looked forward to seeking to avenge the hostilities that had ended only a decade and a half before.

At the time, the United States had two complete infantry divisions in Korea, the 2nd Infantry Division and the 7th Infantry Division.  It was the job of the 2nd Division to patrol and keep safe the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  Men, both observers and infantrymen, could easily see the North Korean soldiers on a daily basis.  The North Koreans were known for being provocative and frequently probed at the U.S. lines.  In one instance while I was there, a 2nd lieutenant of the US was out on an inspection tour of the DMZ when he was attacked by machete wielding North Koreans who killed him in broad daylight.  This incident, and many more like it, never made it to either the newspapers or the nightly news broadcasts in the US as those facilities were tied up in the news coming out of Vietnam.  And yet, soldiers in Korea who served north of the Han River were all considered to be in a combat zone and given commensurate combat pay.

Then, on April 15, 1969, a Tuesday, a U.S. Navy spy plane known as an EC-121 was shot down over North Korea and its crew of 33 all died.

US Navy EC-121

The aircraft was on a mission about 100 miles east of the North Korean peninsula when it was shot down by a North Korean Mig-21 fighter.

I was working in the communications facility at the time this happened.  My battalion commander, a Lieutenant Colonel who seldom ventured into the facility, was suddenly sitting in my work area visibly shaken.  He informed us that the facility was on lock-down and no one would be allowed to enter or leave.  To that end, at the entrance way to my section the normal military policeman had been replaced by a South Korean soldier who was wielding a shotgun with orders to shoot to kill.  Additionally, those men who were in what was the cryptographic section, secure teletype communications, had their door, a bank vault door, secured with the combination lock spun.

Most men who served in areas like I did were aware of what was called survival time after the outbreak of hostilities and the launching of missiles.  Our survival time, as I remember it, was about 3o seconds, for obvious reasons.  What I was unaware of, since we there were no windows in this facility, was that a machine gun had been erected three-quarters of the way up our microwave tower.  Additionally, a heavily army truck was stationed just outside our facility.

Communications parlance of the day had various levels of importance assigned to every bit of communications either received or sent: routine, immediate, and flash.  Each level above routine required the sender to have certain increasing rank and responsibility.  There was one type of communication that was seldom seen and this was known as the “red rocket.”  This particular degree of urgency was reserved for the White House.  Starting on April 15 1969 we saw a lot of such traffic.  The situation was extremely grave as we soon found out that the rear infantry division, the 7th, had been moved to a forward position and many of its supporting artillery batteries were in the process of being moved.

At the time the U.S. had many naval and air forces stationed in Japan which were scrambled to Korean waters and air bases in South Korea.  But more importantly, at the time the Air Force had a group stationed at McDill AFB known as STRIKE Command.  This group had nuclear capability and had been scrambled as well.  I only found this out a couple of years later when, while stationed in Italy, my neighbor was a man who had been assigned to STRIKE Command at the time.  He said STRIKE Command aircraft were within a couple of hours of Korea when they were recalled.

For its part, the United States had absolutely no interest in having an armed conflict with the North Koreans.  The U.S. already had over 500,000 military on assignment in Vietnam and could ill-afford a new commitment of men and material.  The new Nixon White House, a mere 90 days into its tenure, used Henry Kissinger’s amazing diplomatic skills to avert a war.  That task was certainly difficult as both North and South Korea desired a fight.  Still, it took serveral days to resolve the issue, at least temporarily.

We who served in Korea at the time felt over-looked, almost forgotten.  Thought not nearly in the numbers of Vietnam, men were still giving their lives in Korea in those days.  To be sure, the formidable size of both the U.S. forces in Korea and the South Korean military itself was just enough of a deterrent, but only because cooler heads prevailed.

Expediant Politicians Have Compromised America’s Fighting Men


If you have read my previous posts you may believe I am beating this subject to death.  But as a veteran, and hopefully a thoughtful and patriotic American, I feel responsible to speak up on my belief that those in political power, obsessed by their own self-serving priorities, are putting our nation’s warriors in harm’s way.

In October and November of 1925, Colonel William Mitchell was court-martialed for having the temerity to speak his conscience and call into question the conviction of American politicians in providing a proper defense, in the field of aviation, for America.  For those of you unfamiliar with this case, in 1921 he predicted that Japan would launch a sneak attack by aircraft based on ships at sea, on a Sunday morning around 7AM, and upon the ships of the United States based in the port of Honolulu.  His assertion, at the time, was of course brushed off as the rantings of a man more interested in his own fame than anything else.  Mitchell, over the next four years, continued his attack on military leadership whose “conservative” views did not allow for the idea of new and revolutionary ideas.  They, in turned, conspired with the numerous politician to maintain the status-quo or, worse, weaken the nation’s defenses.

Fortunately, America no longer disregards the advances that are being made in warfare.  To the contrary, America’s development of “smart bombs” and other technological advances are a point of pride.  But a lesson that was learned in World War II seems to have been forgotten.  To be sure, America’s technological advances during World War II helped win that war.  But it was the individual fighting man who was at its base.  That is, the technological advances not withstanding, it was the overwhelming numbers of American fighting men, and women, who helped put us over the top.  America fielded over 2 million men during that war.  But out of that war came something we had not expected, combat fatigue.  It was really nothing new, had been experienced in both the Revolutionary War and World War I, but it finally had a name, and a face.

Fighting a war is like running a marathon.  The runner knows full-well that he will hit “the wall,” that point at which he runs out of initial calories, and has to do the final 8 miles on his reserves.  But he knows that at 26.2 miles he will be done, and that in mind, he can maintain a very high level of effectiveness overcoming his bodily pains to complete his mission.  Military men are no different.  They are given a “tour of duty” in a war zone that will last no longer than one year before they are returned home.  Like the runner, however, they must enjoy an extended time of rest to recover from their experience.  But unlike the marathoner, they have incurred a psychological debt that cannot be quantified and may be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

American politicians, most of whom have never served in the military, never mind in a war-zone, do not allow for the psychological damage of war to enter into their considerations when planning for a properly manned military.  They look only at the national budget, and seeing the largeness of the defense budget, they allow political necessity to rule their decisions rather than the proper defense of America and the safety of those who are entrusted with its defense, the military.

Freedom is not free but American politicians, fearful of having to defend its expense, allow for the reduction in the size of America’s military at the expense of the safety of the individual military person.  Even the Spartans, the best-trained, best-equipped, best prepared military force of its day were defeated by numbers.  As valiant as they were, in the end, they ceased to exist simply because of being overwhelmed by an extremely more extensive military force.  Could this happen to America?  Yes!

I am intensely proud of my service in the U.S. Army and am extremely protective of any who would desire to do it wrong.  Right now, as I see it, those who do it wrong are our elected officials, those who we have asked to do our bidding but who, because they lack honor, prefer to force upon the military systems it neither wants nor needs, to curry favor with industrialists who support their political careers but who have no vote in their election.

When Dwight Eisenhower was made commander of all allied forces in Europe during World War II, he knew full-well it was not because he was a stellar tactician, but rather because he could navigate the harsh world of politics and do it in a manner that both mollified the political powers of the allies while tending to the emergency needs of the troops.  He of course surrounded himself with the best tacticians he could find.  The result was his ability to have exactly the number of troops he needed and resources needed to pull off to D-Day invasion of 1944.   America and Americans seemed to finally have come to terms with the idea of “whatever it takes” to win a war.  We committed unconditionally.  To be certain, in 1944 America was weary of war and wanted it over as-soon-as possible.  It continued for another 15 months beyond D-Day 1944.

Since that time America has committed itself to the defense of free thinking people everywhere and especially to the defense of the American homeland.  Nothing shows that resolve more than our response following 9/11.  But America seems to have forgotten, and needs to be reminded, particularly those who assume public office, that war is always a game of numbers, and those numbers are always a count of individual human lives.  Those numbers are necessarily the man who wears the uniform and puts himself in harm’s way in defense of the country he loves.  But men wear out just like machines, and war wears a man out more quickly than any other single endeavor.  To meet our obligations world-wide we need a large active military force.  We do not have that, nor have we for too long.  We wear our those individual parts to their detriment.  We seem to but unable, or unwilling, to pay forward the tax of field the military we promise.

Our active and reserve military forces are simply being over-taxed because there are not enough of them.  We reduce the size of our military at our own peril, and the peril of the individual we ask to go to war for us.  We need an active military in excess of 1 million men and a reserve force that numbers at least 3 million.  We are not even close to either of those figures.  What we should be learned from present-day actions, but do not seem to be, is that modern wars will be long and drawn out requiring long-term commitment from us.  It is unreasonable to keep asking the same individuals to put themselves in harm’s way time and again when we have the resources, and ability, to field far more.