Military Stories #19

There just a few stories that speak of the character of Camp Page. The first two stories were about the annual Focus Lens Exercise. I’m not sure of the timing, I think it may be in the Fall because I never experienced Focus Lens and I never experienced Korea in the Fall. Focus Lens was a military exercise that moved units to the DMZ and positioned a mobile Honest John missile close to the coast near the China Sea.

The intention was to pretend that North Korea was not north, but east, somewhere out in the China Sea, and our 4th Missile Command would launch a missile without atomic warhead, to show our readiness and capability. I have these stories from troops that were there and bore witness.

At one of the launches, the missile flew true, heading towards Japan, but would safely end its flight long before reaching the shore. The target was about fifty miles due east of launch. Suddenly the missile lurched and changed direction. The controllers tried correct the flight back to heading towards Japan. Unfortunately the missile was now heading directly north, getting very close to crossing over to North Korean airspace. Considering that the North Koreans had already threatened war because of the troop exercises near the DMZ, there was a decision to detonate the missile. Some felt that the sight of an incoming missile that detonates at the border would still cause World War III. The decision stood that it would at least be better than the missile actually crossing the border. The order to detonate was given but the missile failed to blow up and continued towards North Korean. Jets were scrambled to shoot the missile out of the sky. Some said that it didn’t look good to the North Koreans to have a missile and several jets heading towards their country. 

Suddenly, everything was mute because the missile burped again, and changed direction towards Japan, then south towards Taiwan, then east again towards Japan. All the while technicians were pounding on circuitry that was supposed to caused the missile to blow up, they had long given up on tried to exert course directions. The missile then turned towards the sun, ran out of fuel, and fell into the waters of the China Sea, very near to the original target zone. No one found out that what the problem was.

The very next year was another Focus Lens and another missile was on the launch trailer, pointed east towards the China Sea. The launch code was given, people crossed fingers and prepared to hit the destruct button should anything go wrong. It was a good thing that the destruct button wasn’t pushed because the missile ignited but failed to leave the launch trailer. Someone had forgotten to unbolt the travel locks from the time when the launch trailer was driven to the site. Hitting the destruct could injure or kill hundreds of troops. The decision was to allow the rocket driven launch trailer to travel several hundred yards down range where it crashed harmlessly into a small hill.

The Camp Page history was very spotty.

There was the time when the Colonel was away and during morning formation a North Korean armed MIG came zipping over the horizon until he reached our camp. Instead of unloading his rockets, he fired his cameras then turned back north to his home. This went on for days. When the colonel came back to the camp he was in rage. He ordered every trooper to stand in formation fully armed with heavy weapons, every third round being a tracer. At a given order, after spotting the MiG heading south, were all to shoot directly up, creating a wall of lead and red tracer rounds for him to fly through if he wanted. He did not want and flipped the MiG over to make the sharpest turn north, and he never came back.

Not all was good though. Because whatever goes up, must come down. For several minutes rounds fell to the earth while troops ran for cover. Spent bullets pelted the Quonset huts, tearing holes in sheet metal. Several thousand round fell on the city of Chunchon. The colonel did not get his next promotion. He wasn’t getting it anyway, because he was sent to Camp Page in the first place.

Then there was the time that we were on maneuvers during the Spring, near the DMZ. We got a little lost and we were traveling south following a dry river bed. At dusk the decision was to make camp, get some hot chow, then turn in for the night. I got my food then I asked the captain if I could set up my sleeping area up on top of a small hill next to the river. At first the captain said no, then changed his mind saying that the hill was rocky but go ahead. At first I was all alone for several hours, then the lightning started up in North Korea, some people thought it was the usual dynamite that the North Koreans liked to set off. But I smelled rain so I dug in a little more. One by one I saw my fellow troops carry up their bags. When the light rain fell we set up shelter halves on the hill. Down in the dry river bed the rest of the troops crawled further under the six or seven vehicles that we were using. When the heavy rains came those troops barely got out with their boots on because the water rose so fast. We watched from the hill when three of the seven vehicles were swept down stream. The rest were deeply mired in the rocky bed of the river. The rains stopped, the river bed was again dry and we had only one truck to get us back to base in shifts. It took a long time, but at least we weren’t carrying missiles.