by Jim Foreman


The month of June came and went very rapidly with the entire 1903rd being involved in such tasks as building tables for the mess hall, repairing damaged roofs and replacing hundreds of broken windows in the old hospital buildings. Meanwhile on the homefront, Janet had gone with the senior class on their trip to Carlsbad Caverns, graduated, sent me a letter every day and called two or three times. The main crux of her letters and phone calls was wanting to know if I had found a place for us to live and when we were going to get married.
       I told her that since a large number of military had come to the area, there was limited availability of housing and the prices had gone up to the point that we simply could not afford it on what I received. I suggested that since I would be getting out of the service in about six months, perhaps the best thing would be for her to get a job in the meantime and make plans to register that fall in college. We would make definite plans to get married as soon as I was discharged. While this was far from being totally agreeable with either her, especially the part about her going to college, she and her mother finally agreed that it would be the best idea.
       I was assigned to the Operations and Engineering Section, known as S-3 in Army lingo, where I was responsible for seeing that the people doing each of the many tasks had the required equipment and material needed in order to complete their jobs most efficiently. It was often necessary to borrow lumber from one jobsite in order to keep another one running. This was what I had been trained to do at the school in Fort Belvoir and I found it most rewarding.
       One morning, Major Parker called me into his office, "Sergeant Foreman, inspecting officers from both the Air Force and Army will be here the first of next month to determine our level of training and combat readiness status. Anyone who is not qualified for the job that he is now holding, or who is over rank for his job will be transferred. You are actually doing the job of Construction Supervisor, but that slot is now being held by Sergeant Nerdlinger, who has been carried there ever since the National Guard was activated. He is Colonel Hull's nephew and I am stuck with him."
       Master Sergeant Nerdlinger was all of 18 years old and his greatest claim to fame was being able to make sound effects with his mouth. He could mimic machine guns, fire engines and exploding shells; but he could barely carry on a intelligent conversation. In fact, most of his conversations were a mixture of English and sound effects. Few people knew that he even existed, because he spent most of his time hiding in his room and reading comic books.
       "Well, Sir, just where does that leave me?" I asked.
       "That is what I'm getting to," replied the Major. "There is an opening in this section for a Sergeant as the soils tester. Here is the Army manual on that subject and the testing kit is located in supply. When the inspection team arrives, I want you to know everything that there is to know about testing soil and be able to answer any question that they can throw at you. If you hit a snag, come to me and I'll help you out."
       For the next two weeks, my head was filled with previously unknown terms like California Bearing Ratio, compaction density, optimum moisture content and sluff angles. I knew the proper name for every piece of equipment in the testing kit and how to use it. I learned far more than I really ever wanted to know about dirt. It all paid off when the Captain who evaluated me wrote on the bottom of his form, "Highly qualified in assigned TO/E position". That old Texas expression, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit," paid off once more for me.
       Heavy equipment began to roll in each day, and with it came more and more job assignments from the Air Force. Even though we were involved in teaching men how to run heavy equipment, the Air Force seemed to think that there was no end to our ability when it came to construction work.
       One piece of heavy equipment in particular, called a Tournadozer, came in to us great numbers. It was a huge, roaring monstrosity mounted on four large rubber tires and was supposed to be the ultimate in dirt moving equipment. A bellowing diesel engine drove a generator, which provided power through hundreds of relays, switches and solenoids to electric motors located inside of each wheel. While it had only limited ability to function as a bulldozer, it could roar along at speeds as high as 40 mph on level ground. It leaped and bounded along with a rocking gait, much like that of a camel. The operator sat on an unprotected seat, high atop the thing, hanging on to a bar to keep from being pitched from his perch. It was touted to be the ultimate in a dirt moving machine, but in truth, it was such a Rube Goldberg affair that only the military would buy such a thing.
       Maintenance on the Tournadozer became such a problem that the factory finally sent specialists to teach our mechanics how to repair them. They looked over the line of disabled units and told us, "When something breaks, put on a new part." Since being unable to obtain a supply of new parts was the problem in the first place, their instructions were totally useless.

        The Air Force took over the deserted railroad warehouses at the south side of the base for a supply point and we were asked to repair the rail bed so tracks could be replaced. I was over at the warehouses one day and noticed about fifty new refrigerators, still in crates, stored there. I asked the Air Force Corporal what they were for and he replied, "If someone brings us a requisition for a refrigerator, we can give them one."
       We built firing ranges, training facilities and roads. We were also given the task of draining, cleaning and repairing a small reservoir in the hills to the east of the base. This place was to become a base swimming and recreation area. Mainly, these jobs provided excellent training sites for many of our people who had never seen heavy equipment before, much less operated it.
       Soon, we found that we had so many projects assigned to us that we had to begin working 12 hours each day in order to keep everything on schedule. We did not realize it at the time, but this would also prove to be good training for the time when we would have to do it in Korea.

        The summer of 1951 was especially hot and dry in the Sacramento Valley of California and anything cold to drink was a scarce commodity around the 1903rd. One day, Major Parker mentioned, "If we had a refrigerator of some sort, we could keep cold pop and beer for the people here in S-3."
       "I think I know where we can get one," I replied as I drove away in a Jeep. "I'll see what I can do."
       I walked in the back door of the warehouse, found a refrigerator near the back of the bunch and wrote down its serial number.
       An hour later, I returned with a truck and backed up to the dock. The Air Force Corporal emerged from his air conditioned office and asked, "What do you want?"
       I handed him a small slip of paper with the serial number that I had written down earlier and said, "Load this refrigerator in the truck."
       He took the piece of paper and began to check the numbers on all of the refrigerators, while continually bitching about how hot it was and why did people always want something. When he finally came to the one with a number which matched the one on the paper, he said, "Why in hell do they always pick one which in the back?"
       Fifteen minutes later, I was unloading a brand new refrigerator at S-3.
       "Where did this come from and how did you get it?" asked Major Parker.
       "If you look and act obvious enough, anyone will believe that what you are doing is legitimate," I replied.
       "In other words, you are saying that I shouldn't ask," said the Major.
       "That's one way of putting it. Another is what you don't know, can't hurt either of us."
       I used this method of obtaining needed items many times in the future and it worked every time.

        August was not a banner month for the people of the 1903rd. Instead of the preface of, "I have some good news and some bad news," it was more like, "I have some bad news and some really bad news." The first bad news was that since the war in Korea was not progressing to an end as rapidly as had been expected and all of the people who had been drafted for 15 months were being extended to 18 months. The really bad news was that the 1903rd was being placed on alert for overseas movement. Rumors had it that we would be going to Alaska but few of us believed that. Overseas obviously meant Korea.
       I called Janet to break the news that I would be in the service for at least eight more months instead of five and that I would probably be going to Korea, then I listened to twelve dollars worth of wailing and sobbing.

       The multitude of make-work tasks which the Air Force had been giving to us were dropped and a major effort was launched to bring all of the unit's new arrivals up to required levels of combat readiness. A maximum effort was made to qualify everyone on both their personal weapons as well as crew-fired ones. We also began to build packing crates for shipping all of the battalion equipment.
       A stubborn forest fire had been raging for several weeks in the Clear Lake area of the Mendocino National Forest, some fifty miles west of Beale. The Forest Service, being unable to bring it under control, finally asked if we could send some men and heavy equipment to help fight the fire. On August 22nd, about 200 men and several pieces of heavy equipment were dispatched. One week later, the fire was under control, but we were now far behind on both the training schedule and preparations for overseas movement.
       As is the custom with the military, the officers did everything possible to keep our destination a secret, but there were so many visible signs that Korea would be our new home that there were few doubts in anyone's mind.

       It was just after noon on a Saturday when Billy Bob suggested, "Let's take in a movie this afternoon."
       "What's playing?" I asked.
       "John Wayne picture at one theater and a musical at the other," replied Billy Bob.
       "Know anything about either of them?" I asked.
       "The John Wayne is a war picture," replied Arthur Arthur Arthur, who was the most cultural minded of the bunch. "The musical is based on a book. It's all about a dirty old man who lived in a castle and had lots of bucks. He also had the hots for this cute little cunt who was the daughter of his grounds keeper and was willing to do just about anything to get her in the sack. She didn't want to have anything to do with him because she starched her drawers every time that she looked at the good looking boy who took care of the dirty old man's goats."
       Arthur Arthur Arthur continued, "The dirty old man figured that the only way that he was ever going to get the girl into bed was to do away with the goat herder, so he invited him up to have a drink. He opens a secret lid on his ring and dumps some white powder in a glass of wine and hands it to the kid. While the kid was a long ways from a mental genius, he was smart enough to figure out that the old man is up to no good, so he dumps the wine into a potted plant, which instantly wilts and falls over. When the old man sees that he can't poison the goat herder, he grabs a sword and starts trying to slice him up. The old man chases the kid around and around the room, chopping off a few candles and potted plants as he goes, but can't catch him. He finally lunges at the kid, who is standing in front of an open window. Naturally, the kid jumps aside and the old man does a half-gainer out the window and splats himself on the ground about four stories below. It turns out that the kid was actually the old man's long, lost grandson. He inherits the castle, his money and all his goats. The kid and the girl get married and they live happily ever after."
       "Does the John Wayne have a cartoon?"
       "Two of them. Roadrunner and Marx Brothers," replied Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       "Good, let's go see the John Wayne," I suggested.
       We got to our seats just as the movie was ending and when the lights came on, Billy Bob whispered to me, "Look, there is Colonel Hull sitting down front."
       "Never thought of him as the movie-going type," I replied.
       "This movie is probably the closest thing to the real army that he will ever see," said Billy Bob.
       After the roadrunner outfoxed the coyote a half a dozen times and the Marx Brothers finished their antics, the movie came on. John Wayne was a Lieutenant Colonel and the CO of a combat engineer outfit someplace in the South Pacific. Between killing Japs and giving hell to all of the butter-bar Second Lieutenants under him, he spent most of his time drinking and playing poker with the First Sergeant. One day the Japs killed the First Sergeant, which really pissed John Wayne no end. He grabbed up a machine gun with his bare hands, jumped on a bulldozer and went clattering off down the road, wiping out Japs right and left. With bullets whizzing all around him, he used the bulldozer to shove several trucks loaded with more Japs over a cliff. The movie ended with him shoving a huge pile of rocks into a hole where a dozen or so Japs had been hiding while they shot at him with machine guns. Naturally, John didn't receive a scratch because all that the Japs could hit was the blade on the bulldozer.
       "Ever notice in the movies, when and American soldier gets killed, he usually swears; but when a Jap gets killed, he always screams?" I asked as we left the theater.
       "Good old John Wayne really gave those Japs a lesson in sex," said Billy Bob.
       "What do you mean?" I asked.
       "He taught them that it don't pay to fuck around with John Wayne," replied Billy Bob.
       "Colonel Hull isn't coming out," I said. "You suppose that he is going to see it again?"
       "Probably. He has always been a Regular Army asshole and a movie like that would really give him kicks." 

       At reveille formation on Monday morning, Col. Hull was there, not in his usual starched khaki uniform, but in fatigues, web belt, helmet liner and combat boots. His thumbs were hooked in his pistol belt and there was a noticeable drag in his left leg as he walked. He called the formation to order with a cross between a cowboy drawl and his usual Chicago accent.
       "Holy Shit!" whispered Billy Bob. "The old man has gone ape shit and thinks that he is John Wayne."
       "Glad that he didn't see "Iwo Jima" or he would have us raising a flag on a hill someplace," I replied.
       In the mess hall that night, Billy Bob reported, "Colonel Hull was down at the motor pool today, asking me to teach him how to run a bulldozer. I think that he is a couple tacos short of a combination plate after seeing that John Wayne movie."
       "I always knew that he was stupid, but never thought that he was crazy too," I replied.
       "Boy, that's a frightening thought; going to Korea with an insane man leading us," replied Red Ryder.
       "Most officers are a bit Looney Tunes, look at Patton. He was crazy as a peach-orchard boar during most of World War Two," I told them. "I don't know whether only the insane become officers or if they go crazy after they become officers."
       "Must be the latter, because it seems that the higher the rank, the crazier they are," said Red.
       "Not necessarily," I replied. "Remember Lieutenant High? He was a goofy as a three-star general by those standards."
       "I'd just as soon forget that son of a bitch," replied Red. "My nose will be crooked for the rest of my life."
       It seemed that Col. Hull became more obsessed with the John Wayne syndrome with each passing day. His leg dragged more and more as he walked and his John Wayne drawl had completely replaced his Chicago accent. He suddenly began to attend all formations, always wearing fatigues, helmet and pistol. He even issued orders that everyone would wear helmets and carry their M-1 Rifles to reveille formations.
       A few weeks later, trucks loaded with combat gear pulled up to the supply room. We were issued combat field packs, gas masks, steel helmets, bayonets, bandoleers of ammunition, hand grenades and all of the other gear usually associated with front line infantry troops. Col. Hull replaced his military pistol with a matched pair of nickel-plated revolvers with pearl handles.
       Rumors began to float around that we were being transferred to the infantry and were going straight to Korea as combat troops. Other rumors had us landing behind the lines in North Korea for a secret invasion. By the first of October, we were ordered to fall out with full field packs for every formation.
       "I never thought that we would wind up as combat troops," said Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       "We are still Aviation Engineers and are going to Korea to build airstrips," said Bobby Ward, who was in a position to see all orders which came in to the unit. "Nothing has changed since we received the overseas orders, except that the old man has gone crazy as a doodle bug and thinks that he is John Wayne."

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