THE WAY TO KOREA:
I got a few days leave. My mother decided we needed a family picture.
My father had no eyebrows (he picked them compulsively).
Mother said, “We can’t have you pictured this way; this may be the last picture of our whole family!” (I gulped.) So she took out some black shoe-polish and painted in GrouchoMarx brows on my father. (Years later, he still got angry if reminded.)
I shipped out of Seattle. They made us empty our duffle-bags, to make sure nobody was taking along an extra machine-gun. Unhappily, they found a brassiere in my bag; I suffered quite a bit. I figured there was just a mixup with the sister’s laundry.I called home the day before I shipped out, and my awful brother-in-law asked, “Did you find my extra present?” I snapped at him an obscenity, then realized Mother was on the phone also. I hung up immediately.
They also found in my bag 2 volumes of The Basic Works of Aquinas (I hoped I’d get so bored in Korea that I’d read them.) This time I wasn’t present, and they got ready to confiscate the books—but a friend said, “You can’t take away his spiritual reading!”/ The officer snapped, “Why can’t he read a pocket Bible like everyone else ?” But he left the books (I never got that bored.)
The last day we heard they weren’t giving any passes to get off the base. There were buses leaving for town all the time—what could they do to us—send us to Korea? We all went AWOL.
I said to my group: “Let’s stay away from the port; that’s where the MPs will be looking for us.Let’s go to a movie.” I was laughed to scorn.
We went to one bar where a fat, middle-aged woman pulled a rip-cord and stood naked: all strip and no tease. An older Eskimo woman, her face covered with sores, drank with us. She had an armful of books and assured us she was a college-girl.
I was standing on a corner, explaining drunkenly to another Catholic guy why, since he was in his second marriage, his child was illegitimate in the eyes of the Church. He began yelling, the MPs hauled us in; we spent the night in an awful drunk tank.
I called home that morning; my father told me that his cousin was chief of police in Seattle;
I said he shouldn’t brag about that.
We took off in a calm bay—wise-acre sailors showed a movie involving Betty Hutton weaving back and forth. Outside the bay, an awful storm, heaving seas. The whole ship was quickly covered with hot dogs.
My memory is 27 days on the winter Pacific (surely not!)
I vomited every meal I tried to eat. We were so intimidated I never even thought of sick call.
I’d have starved lying in 4th bunk up among 5, if others hadn’t brought me hard-boiled eggs.
After a few days, I could stagger to the deck, carrying my steel helmet as a precaution. A wise-ass sergeant said “Buddy, it’s all in your mind.” / “No, it’s all in the helmet.” I showed him.
A couple of GIs were interesting. We were told each day how far we were from Seattle and how far from Yokahama. This black guy said, “I don’t care about those distances. I want to know how far DOWN it is!”
This same guy shook his head when told we would miss Sunday by crossing the dateline. Sure enough, a terrible storm came up and we missed Monday instead. He nodded wisely and said,
“I done tol’ you—you don’t fuck wid de Lawd’s Day !”
Another fellow was one of a group of prominent scientists being shipped to Korea. He was 7th-DayAdventist: “I won’t do combat !”
We got to Yokahama, then transshipped to Inchon, Korea. I had a 3-profile for athsma and near-blindness, so I was to work behind the lines.
The Captain in the Classification/Assignment office said,
“You were a philosophy major; that means you like people!” I didn’t correct him; I got a job in that office interviewing GIs back from the front line (30 miles away) wounded or goofy. If they were well-healed, I had to send them back to the front-line.
One black guy said, “You can’t send me back; I’ve got a vision-problem !” / “Nothing shows on your record!”/ “I got a vision-problem; I can’t see that shit !”/ “You’ll sure never get out on psycho grounds; you’re eminently sane.”
I asked the Captain: “What will you do with the half-dozen top scientists in the casual area?”
/”OmiGod—a typo!” (Scientists’ MOS differed from infantrymen by only 2 digits.)
He called top HQ in Seoul. A sergeant there had a general in his control (don’t ask how.) He said, “Send them to the front lines to get them killed before the mistake is discovered.” My captain refused, so the sergeant said, “Assign them to me.”
The Adventist from the ship was made a combat medic—with a shorter life-span than infantrymen.
Our mail wasn’t censored, but it never crossed my mind to tell my family so they could tell a Congressman.
“War is a demented enterprise, with personnel and policies corresponding.”