Military Stories #18

I had questions about why I was being sent to Korea. I truly thought I was making progress in becoming a professional soldier. I thought I was beginning to understand what my role was and how I fit in. I was not in combat, but I was supporting combat.
I was also a very good technician in my specialty. I could fix things under pressure, I could crack safes, destroy them if necessary. I could maintain hundreds of machines and keep up with the dozens of “mods” that came down the pike. I was creating the very first wiring schematic of the entire command center. There was that little dust-up on the roof of the Joint Chief War Room, but that was forgotten. I thought I was doing very well.

I was heading to Chunchon because the Army said I was needed there. Well, I thought, “Where else would the get a proven technician? Why trust someone straight out of school, why not tap an experienced technician from the most important post in the Army?” Well, okay, maybe I go and do my last months in Korea. At least it’s not Vietnam.

I said this to myself several times a day for the next two weeks.

I then drove non-stop across country in that brute of a black Chevy Biscayne. My wife, my son, we were headed back to California. My wife thought I should protest, that I should fake my limp, that I should try everything until my oversea orders were cancelled. Clearly this was a mistake. I was thinking that I was not wanted at Site R for several reasons that could not be addressed. I did not protest, I thought it was better to go along for now.

That decision of mine had a very bad impact on my family. Within months my wife left, with my son, to live in another state. The marriage was in ruins and the relationship and mutual trust was harmed. I asked from Korea if everything was okay. My wife said that everything was fine. But I also got anonymous letters saying everything was not fine. It was a little crazy making.

One of the first bizarre things was finding out that I was sent to care for one machine. A machine that had a stellar record, never needing repair. I took care of hundreds at Site R, here in Korea, I had one machine in the crypto room. And to take the cake, there was already a technician here that was very jealous of his machine. I had rank, and I had professional status because I had re-enlisted, so the Army couldn’t tell me to do another job. I compromised and “managed” the technician, and took responsibility for the off hours

, the swing and grave shifts.

I soon discovered that Camp Page, Chunchon, Korea was not at all like Site R in Pennsylvania. If Site R was the most important post, then Camp Page was among the least important. It really was going from the best, to the worst. The stories that were told to me would have been funny, straight out of MASH on the television. Except it wasn’t television, it was Korea. And when my pay came in I realized I had landed in a combat zone. I was getting pro-pay and I was getting a combat pay bump. I was assigned to a post that maintained a field presence on the DMZ with North Korea. The very thing I had tried to avoid had come true. It wasn’t Vietnam, but bullets came my way, and I eventually sent a few bullets their way. The full armistice was never signed, this was just a long lull in the ongoing war with North Korea. We were in harm’s way.

We lived in Quonset huts, they looked like large barrels cut in half then laid on the ground. Not insulated, and bad ventilation, and I believe it was a pounded earth floor. I say that because I don’t ever remember using water to clean the floor and there was also a lot of dust and sweeping. There were two oil-drum space heaters that produced tons of smoke and soot. The ceiling had never been cleaned or painted, it was a dingy, dusty, hellhole of a living space. And it was cold, very cold. The latrine was several buildings away and the night trip to the urinal was usually cut short with several piles of yellowish ice mounds found in the morning. When it was very cold, urine would freeze before hitting the ground, giving new meaning to the word tinkling. It was very cold a lot.

I had drawn several new additions to my clothing. Padded inserts for my field jacket, and padded insulation for my field pants. The really great addition was a wolf fur lined hoody that you attached to the field jacket. It had a wire at the edge so that you could bend the hood closed completely around your face for warmth. The wolf-fur would not freeze. The moisture on your mustache would freeze and if you weren’t careful it would break off. Morning showers could wet your hair, and it could freeze and break off. It was very cold.

The physical nature was different and extreme, but it was possible to have a dedicated rational Army post at Camp Page. Within days I realized that Camp Page had the worst morale, the worst of Army leadership, and I’m sad to say the worst grunts the Army could produce. The situation was complete FUBAR. It all comes crashing down, there is no honor, the was no professionalism, there was only FUBAR.

It was the opposite of Site R. The Army was incompetent, heartless and without honor or deserving of respect. Except that I knew it was different where I came from, and perhaps different everywhere else. It was Camp Page that was broken, bent, and whack. I was sent here to suffer. So I asked about the history of Camp Page.