by Jim Foreman


      We climbed off the trucks and formed a battalion formation in the area between the flag pole and a building bearing a sign which proclaimed, "BASE HEADQUARTERS, First Marine Air Wing". Carrying a folded U.S. flag under his arm, Col. Hull ordered all staff officers to join him at the flag pole. With great pomp and ceremony, he pulled out the corners of the folded flag and attached them to the rings to the rope which flapped against the pole. Still grasping the folded flag, Col. Hull ordered, "Hand Salute". Every right hand in the unit snapped to right eyebrows as one of the officers briskly raised the flag. The flag unfurled as it rippled up the pole and a fresh breeze set it flapping against a blue Korean sky.
      "Welcome to Korea, men. This is our new home," shouted Col. Hull as a titter of laughter ran through the assembled battalion. "At Ease, and no laughter. This is a serious moment."
      "Hey, Colonel Asshull," shouted a voice from somewhere in the rear of the formation. "You got the friggin' flag upside down!" From that day forward, as long as I was in the unit, Colonel Hull's name was Colonel Asshull.
      Much to our surprise, mail arrived on the next day after we did. I received two letters from my mother and a newspaper, but nothing from Janet. After all, more than a month had passed since our weekend at Lake Tahoe and I was anxious to know if it was going to result in a little surprise package.
      Our first priority, before beginning the task of building a new runway, was to designate which buildings would be used for what purpose and get unpacked and into operation. The largest building, set in the form of a large letter "H" had been used by the Marines as Base Headquarters. It was only logical that it should also become our Battalion Headquarters. Directly across from it were several identical Quonset buildings which became Operations and Engineering, Battalion Supply and Communications. One large mess hall, which was located behind the headquarters buildings, would feed the entire battalion. Half a dozen smaller buildings became billets for officers holding the rank of Captain or higher while the junior officers had to live, barracks-style, in a larger building. At least none of the officers had to sleep in tents as did the enlisted men.
      Hundreds of boxes containing our equipment were moved to the buildings where they belonged and unpacked so we could get into operation as quickly as possible. I was helping separate the boxes which belonged to the Operations and Engineering Section when Billy Bob came by. He was driving a truck pulling a low-boy trailer. On the trailer was a huge crate marked "ROAD ROLLER". "Hop in and give me a hand with this crate," he yelled.
      "Why did you ship something as heavy as a road roller in a crate?" I asked. "Why didn't you simply ship it on its wheels, along with the rest of the heavy equipment?"
      "Wait till you see what is really in this crate," replied Billy Bob as he pulled to a stop behind the repair shop at the motor pool. "It is a very special road roller."
      We hacked away steel bands, pulled dozens of nails and finally the end of the crate dropped open. Inside, chained securely to the floor, was Billy Bob's crazy-quilt Chevy; Old Paint.
      "I wondered what you did with this thing before we left Beale," I said. "I knew that you didn't take it back to Texas and didn't think that there was anyone stupid enough to buy it."
      "I knew that we were bound to need some wheels when we got here, so I just put Old Paint in a box and shipped him over," replied Billy Bob. "I'd like to see the Fort Worth National Bank try to repossess it from me over here."
      There was a double row of square, four-man tents near the mess hall, so they set aside the first four of them for the cooks. Bobby Ward, Billy Bob, Arthur Arthur Arthur and I moved into the next tent in the row. Since Lester Price was the demolitions expert and worked with explosives in his job, he decided to set up his bunk in the shed where all of the unit's dynamite, TNT, black powder and other explosives were stored. Red Ryder took over a back room in one of the Quonset buildings as a photo laboratory and figured that an ideal place for him to sleep was in the darkroom. Who would ever think of looking for him there.
      Near the officer's housing area, was the building which had been the Officers Club for the Marine pilots. The walls were decorated with paintings of bent-wing Marine Corsairs on strafing runs, dropping bombs on villages and shooting down Chinese Mig-15 Fighters. A fireplace stood at one end and a long bar ran across the other. It was made very clear from the beginning that this club was for officers only and enlisted men were far from welcome, even as bartenders. They hired a couple Koreans to mix drinks for them.
      "If those damn officers can have their own private club, then why can't we have one for the enlisted men?" asked Billy Bob. "There is an unused building over near the control tower, which the Marines used as a ready room for their pilots. It would make a great enlisted club with a little work."
      The word went out and every man offered to spend some of his off-duty time to make it the best enlisted club in Korea. Stone was hauled in and several people set about building a huge fireplace at one end of the building. It reached from floor to the ceiling and was wide enough to burn the largest of logs. Packing crates were salvaged for materials to build the bar, tables and chairs. Someone went to Pusan in a truck and came back with a genuine American juke box, complete with the latest recorded hits. No one ever asked where it came from and no such information was ever offered.
      Hanging under the control tower was a traffic light which the Marines had used as an alert signal. While the Marines were operating from the base, all that they had to do in order to know what the alert status was at any time was to glance up at the light to see if it was red, green or yellow. Since there were no longer airplanes on the field, the traffic signal had no purpose. Lester Price removed it from the tower and installed it as a decoration in the corner of the club.
      "That is a genuine New York City traffic signal," he said. "You would not believe how sophisticated it is with all the timers, relays and other electrical equipment that is packed inside. It can be programmed to do just about anything with traffic at any time of the day or night. The only place that I ever saw one of these signals was when I went to school at the factory."
      When he installed it in the club, the timers and switches were adjusted to turn the green light on at noon, when the club opened, and change to red at midnight when it was time to close. Fifteen minutes before closing time for the bar, the yellow light would begin to flash as a warning that it was time to buy that final round. During other times, it would change from green to yellow to red and back again, just like it had when installed in New York City.
      Arthur Arthur Arthur agreed to paint a suitable mural on the long, back wall, but refused to say what he had in mind. He blocked off four large squares, each about seven feet high by eight feet wide. Above the first one, he lettered "STEVE CANYON". It was obvious that it was going to be a Steve Canyon cartoon, the most popular comic strip in the newspapers in 1951. Steve Canyon and Summer Olson had a hot and heavy thing going on at the time, however the newspaper censors weren't about to allow them to do anything more than hold hands and make moon eyes at one another. Arthur Arthur Arthur had other ideas.
      We had been in Korea for almost two weeks and even though I had written to Janet four or five times, I had heard nothing from her. My mother mentioned in one of her letters that she had seen Janet driving down the street in my car, so that ruled out the possibility that she had an accident of some sort. I was rather irritated that she had not taken it back home as soon as she returned from California. I even considered trying to place a long distance call to her, but since such a call was very difficult to make due to the difference in time zones, I thought that I'd wait a few more days to hear from her.

      Early one morning, well before the club was to open, Arthur Arthur Arthur picked up his brushes and announced that he was going to the club to work on the comic strip.
      "You want a little company while you paint?" I asked.
      "Nope, I want to do this without an audience. A great artist like me has to work alone," he replied. Two hours later, he returned, cleaned his brushes and put his supplies away.
      "Care to fill us in on what you painted?" I asked.
      "You will just have to go see for yourself," he replied. "A great artist like me never reviews his own work."
      The suspense was just too much for us to wait until the club opened, so we took off in a bunch to see the results of Arthur Arthur Arthur's work.
      In the first square, Steve Canyon was entering Summer Olson's living room. There was a very noticeable bulge in the crotch of Steve's pants as he said, "I've missed you, Summer Baby." She says, "Me too, it has been nearly three hours."
      In the second scene, they are kissing while Steve pulls her sweater up with one hand while slipping off her skirt with the other.
      In the third scene, she is down to her panties and bra, and Steve has his shirt off. Summer is tugging at Steve's belt, saying, "Why in hell do you men have to wear clothes which are so hard to get off?"
      The fourth and last scene, both are nude and Steve is humping Summer on the couch. She says, "Buzz me, Flyboy," and he is saying, "Hot Damn."
      "Holy Cow," I said. "That is one Steve Canyon strip that will never be seen in the Stars and Stripes. I'll bet that old Milt Caniff never drew a strip with Summer Olson doing anything like that."
      "If he did, I'll wager that he'd make a lot more money than he does now. Just think how well a whole comic book like that would sell," replied Bobby Ward.
      "They'd have to keep them under the counter at the drugstore, like they do with some of the little Popeye and Olive Oyl and the Mutt and Jeff books that I've seen," I said.
      "Better not let our Bible-thumping Chaplain see that or he will be in here with white paint, covering it up to save us from sin," said Billy Bob.
      "What the hell," said Arthur Arthur Arthur. "I simply painted what all of you horny bastards are thinking about every time that you read the strip. We know that Steve and Summer don't just sit around holding hands and breathing hard."

      It was about two weeks into December when an urgent call was put out for all National Guardsmen to report to Battalion Headquarters. When they were in formation, Col. Hull announced, "There has been a mistake made by the Army. When they extended all of the draftees from fifteen to eighteen months, they did not realize that they could not do the same thing with us. We were called to active duty for fifteen months and can't be extended. All guardsmen must be discharged by the last day of December unless they volunteer to remain a minimum of two more years. Those of you who do not wish to stay, will be leaving for home in twenty-four hours."
      A shout went up from the formation as they scattered to begin packing for the trip home. The only National Guardsman who chose to remain in the army was Col. Hull. He wisely decided that being a Lt. Colonel in the Army in Korea had far more to offer than being a civilian and reading water meters in Chicago.
      Two days after the announcement, there was not a single company commander, supply officer or platoon leader left in the entire battalion. Every First Sergeant was gone, along with all of the other National Guard members who had received midnight promotions to sergeant on the day before they were activated. The 1903rd would never see full strength again.
      As a Staff Sergeant, I was now one of the highest ranking enlisted men in the unit. Major Parker was not included in the group which could go home because he had been recalled from the reserves and had nearly eighteen months remaining on his enlistment.
      Major Parker went to Col. Hull and said, "We have several enlisted men already in the unit who are capable of assuming the position left vacant by the National Guard sergeants who went home, so I suggest that we concentrate our efforts on securing experienced engineering officers."
      "I'd been thinking the same thing," replied Col. Hull. "Move your qualified men into those slots as soon as possible and we will see if we can waive the time-in-grade requirements so we can promote to the rank which the position calls for. I have already contacted the 8th Army and they are transferring several engineering officers and four company commanders to us from Army units in Japan. One of the company commanders, a Captain Fish, is bringing his own First Sergeant with him. I'm told that Captain Fish, who is a West Point Graduate, is the same person who single- handedly won the football game against Navy in 1926."
      "You mean that he is a West Pointer who has been in the Army for 25 years and is still only a Captain?" asked Major Parker. "He must be pushing fifty years of age by now. What's the matter with him and how does he manage to remain in the Army that long over-age in grade?"
      Well," said Col. Hull, "I understand that he has a bit of a drinking problem which has kept him from getting promotions. Since he was responsible for winning the football game against Navy and most of his old classmates are Generals by now, no one is willing to be the person who boots him out of the Army. When he is assigned to a unit, they just sort of put up with him for a while and then transfer him on to another unit."
      "He must have been some football player to have won the game against Navy all by himself," said Major Parker.
      "Not really such a great player, just lucky," replied Col. Hull. "When I heard that the famous Captain Fish was being sent here, I did some research on him. Seems that he had sat on the bench for four years and had never played a single down in a game."
      "It was the annual Army-Navy game of 1926 and Navy was leading by a score of 21 to 17. Navy had the ball, first and goal, on Army's two yard line with twelve seconds left on the clock. Most of Army's backfield had been injured, so the Army coach, figuring that it was the last play of the game anyway, sent Fish in as a defensive back."
      "Both teams lined up; the ball was centered but the Navy quarterback, who planned to simply fall on it and let the clock run out, fumbled the ball into the end zone where it rolled to a stop at Fish's feet. The Midshipmen on the sidelines, thinking that the game was over, fired the touchdown cannon and turned the Navy goat loose on the field. Since no Navy player had touched the ball after it rolled across the goal line, it was still a live ball."
      "Fish was bent down to pick up the ball and take it home as a souvenir when the Navy's goat saw his exposed rear end and came charging with its head down. Fish saw the goat coming and took off in a dead run down the field with the ball in his hand and the mad goat right on his heels. When Fish crossed the goal line at the other end of the field, the referees blew their whistles and gave Army a touchdown, which won the game for them. Even though time had run out, the ball was still alive and the touchdown counted."
      "Considering what you have told me about Captain Fish, what do you know about the First Sergeant that he is bringing with him?" asked Major Parker. "He must be a real winner too."
      "He is Sergeant Owl," replied Col. Hull. "Back in 1927, when Captain Fish received his commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Army, he was provided with a Private as an orderly to polish his boots, press his uniforms and keep house for him. Orderlies in those days were known as "Dog Robbers" because they were robbing some dog of its rightful job. Owl had just joined the Army and was assigned to Fish as his orderly and has been with him ever since. Each time Fish was assigned to a new unit, he took Owl along with him. Now and then, he would managed to get a promotion through for Owl before his ineptness was discovered. Sergeant Owl will be the new First Sergeant and Captain Fish the Commanding Officer for Headquarters Company until we can find a unit where they aren't known and get rid of them."
      Major Parker called me into his office. "As you know, Sergeant Nerdlinger went home with the rest of the National Guard people, so as of right now, you are Operation Sergeant. It is a demanding job, but I have been observing you and feel that you can handle it. I can't promise how long it will take to get you promoted to Master Sergeant, but Colonel Hull said that he would try to get a waiver of the time-in-grade requirements to get you promoted."
      Suddenly, I found myself in charge of the Surveying, Demolition, Soils Testing, Drafting and Photo Sections. I had my speech all prepared when I called all the people in my sections together.
      "Well, guys, we managed to make it through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in spite of people like Lieutenant High and Sergeant Schultz and we did a credible job in bringing Beale back to life. Major Parker just put me in Nerdlinger's job and I'm going to have to depend on each of you to help me get it done."
      "What the hell," said Red Ryder. "If a jerk like Nerdlinger could handle that job, then a stupid Texan shouldn't have any problem with it. All that you need is a good supply of comic books to keep you busy and out of our way so we can do our jobs."

      One of the benefits of being in Battalion Headquarters was the fact that you got your mail shortly after it came in and didn't have to wait until just before the evening meal. Bolinger, the mail clerk, dropped by S-3 with our mail and handed me a couple letters and a picture post card. It was one of those cards with a color picture of a motel which are given out free to all their guests. It was from the Bide-A-Wee Motel in El Paso. A little arrow pointed to a circle around one of the doors with a notation, "Our Room".
      I turned the card over and read it, "Dear Jim. Just a note to tell you that Bucky and I just got married and are on our honeymoon. Bucky's tires were so thin that we drove your car and someone stole it from right in front of our door at the motel. Hope you have good insurance. I was going to send your ring back, but we had to sell it to pay for bus tickets home. Your Friend, Janet Groves."
      "Well, if that's not a hell of a note," I said to myself. "Janet dumps me and marries old duck footed Bucky, the bugger digging jock strap washer. She must have wanted to get married awfully bad to settle for him. I've heard of guys getting a Dear John letter, but I got a Dear John picture postcard." For some reason, the news of her marrying Bucky gave me far more relief than heartache, but I sure am going to miss that car.

      We had just finished breakfast and were preparing to go to our various jobs when a whistle screamed in the street.
      "What the hell," said Billy Bob. "Must be some sort of emergency for someone to call a formation at this time of day; better get our asses out there on the double and see what it's all about."
      As we jockeyed into formation in the company street, we saw the one responsible for all the noise from his whistle. He was black as the ace of spades, about five feet tall and weighed no more than ninety pounds, including his brass thunder whistle. Above a dozen hash marks, indicating his many years of military service, on his sleeve were six stripes and a diamond. Behind him stood a W. C. Fields look-alike with gray hair and wearing captain's bars. The Captain stood at least six feet, weighed three hundred pounds and had a huge red nose as big as an apple.
      "I am First Sergeant Owl," said the owner of the whistle, "And this is Company Commander Fish, the man who single-handedly won the football game against Navy in 1926."
      "Is this really our new CO and First Sergeant, or some's idea of a joke?" whispered Billy Bob, who was standing directly behind me.
      "Must be some comedy team that the USO has sent over," I whispered over my shoulder.
      "At Ease, you two sergeants, or I will have your asses on report," shouted the owner of all the hash marks. "Captain Fish has a few words for you."
      The rotund captain staggered forward, reeled back and forth a bit, trying to form some words, and slurred "I'm Captain Fish, and I scored a touchdown and won the game against Navy in 1926. You do what First Sergeant Owl tells you and we'll get along just fine."
      "He must drink like a fish, cause it isn't even seven in the morning and he is already drunker than shit," whispered Billy Bob.
      First Sergeant Owl stepped back in place and continued, "Each and every tent leader for each and every tent will report to supply and draw a can of D, D and T. You will then sprinkle this here D, D and T through the cracks in the floor of each and every tent and around the door of the tent. There is an insect in the company area which is biting the E M of the 1903rd and causing them discomfort and misery. This here D, D and T will drive this insect away."
      By this time, everyone in the formation was doubled over with laughter. First Sergeant Owl continued, "Don't laugh, he's out there and I plans to get him."
      "Hell, I thought that the D, D and T he was talking about was a railroad," said Arthur Arthur Arthur.
      "Let's have some order here," shouted Sgt. Owl. "I have some more announcements to make. Each and every one of you were issued a new fur cap last week, but you are not authorized to wear fur caps until the first of January. These are special cold weather caps and if you wear them now, you might get a bad cold and end up on sick call, and if there is anything that I can't stand, it is people going on sick call for a cold.
      "Wear them? Hell, I thought they were to sleep with," shouted Billy Bob.
      "One other thing," continued the Owl. "We have had reports that there is a North Korean pilot, who is known as Piss Call Charlie. He usually comes in just as each and every one is going into the mess hall and drops some bombs. Each and every one of you should be alert for this pilot and report him immediately if you see him. You are dismissed."
      "Is each and every one dismissed?" someone shouted.
      "What a pair of assholes," said Billy Bob as we left for our jobs. "Wonder where they got them; they must both be pushing fifty if they are a day."
      "Sergeant Owl said that Captain Fish had won a football game against Navy in 1926," said Bobby Ward. "Hell, I wasn't even born then."
      "No wonder he could win a football game," said Billy Bob. "The drunken old fart is built like a football. The rest of the team probably rolled him across the goal line."
      "Do you think that there is any such person as the Piss Call Charlie, that he mentioned?" asked Billy Bob.
      "Hell no!" I replied. "There has been some mythical enemy in every war. During the first world war, it was the fictitious General Heerman. No matter what happened or what went wrong, they could always say that it was General Heerman. During World War Two, they had these little things that they called Gremlins. In Korea, we have Piss Call Charlie. There is no more a Piss Call Charlie than there is one of Billy Bob's Unihorns."

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