by Jim Foreman


      The phone on my desk rang, "This is Colonel Hull, would you drop over to my office. I have a special project for you to take care of."
       That's just what we need, another project of some sort. I wonder what kind of a Mickey Mouse thing he wants built now. They have had the carpenter shop so busy building writing desks and foot lockers for the officers that they can't get anything else done.
       "You are the first to hear about this," said Col. Hull as I stepped through his door. "Bob Hope and his troupe is coming over here to do some special Christmas shows and one of them is going to be held right here at K-1. He will fly in, do a morning show on Christmas Eve and then fly on to Seoul for another show in the afternoon. What I need for you to do is design and get a raised stage built for him to perform on. It should be at least fifteen feet wide, ten feet deep and with steps at both ends. It needs to be built on the ramp, just in front of the control tower so there will be plenty room for people to sit."
       "I'll take care of that, and we will probably need to get the rest room under the tower cleaned up too. I'll also see that the back room at the enlisted club is set up for him to use as a dressing room," I replied. "Anything else, Sir?"
       "Yes, one other thing, send Sergeant Ryder to see me. I want to talk with him about starting a unit scrapbook and photo album, and what could be better than the Bob Hope show to start it off with."
       "Hey, Red," I shouted through the closed door to the darkroom. "The Colonel wants to see you."
       The door open an inch, "What the hell have I done to have the old man on my ass?" asked Red.
       "Nothing like that," I replied. "Guess who is coming right here for Christmas."
       "Santa Claus?"
       "Nope, bigger than that. Guess again."
       "Bigger than Santa Claus, must be Filpot."
       "Hell no! Not Shoat Filpot either," I replied. "Bob Hope is coming here and the old man wants you to start a photo album and scrapbook."
       "Bob Hope coming here, Bullshit! That will be the day," said Red. "Bob Hope wouldn't come anywhere near this dump. After all, there isn't a General within miles and it's the big brass who Hope entertains, not enlisted peons like us."
       I roughed out a sketch of the stage that Col. Hull had requested and handed it to Arthur Arthur Arthur to draw up. Just as he finished, Col. Hull stepped into my office, wanting to see it.
       "This looks just fine except, I just got some more information about the show and the stage is going to have to be made a bit larger," he said "In addition to Hope, Teresa Brewer is coming along. Better make the stage at least twenty by sixteen feet. Bring me the plans as soon as they are done. You will also have to arrange for two dressing rooms."
       I sketched the larger stage and gave it to Arthur Arthur Arthur, telling him, "Teresa Brewer is also coming, so the stage will have to be bigger."
       "Teresa Brewer is coming here!" shouted Arthur Arthur Arthur. "She is an absolute, living doll. She can put her shoes under my bunk any time that she wants to."
       Stage plan number two was finished and I took it to Col. Hull.
       "Glad you are here," he said. "I was just going to call you. Teresa Brewer isn't coming now, but Marilyn Monroe is, along with a small band. Better make the stage at least thirty feet wide and twenty feet deep."
       I handed the new sketch to Arthur Arthur Arthur, saying, "Back to the drawing board. Teresa isn't coming, but Marilyn Monroe is, along with a small band."
       "I wish that he would make up his mind as to what size stage he wants so I could get it done," replied Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       I was just passing the flag pole on my way to see Colonel Hull with drawing number three when he stepped from the door of Battalion Headquarters. "There you are, Foreman. I was on my way over to see you. I just got word that Hope is bringing Marilyn Monroe, plus Les Brown and his full band. The stage will have to be at least fifty feet wide and forty feet deep. The back half will need to be raised a foot higher than the front to serve as a bandstand and a backdrop will have to be added. We will also have to build a special stand to seat the Generals who will also be coming here to see the show."
       "How many Generals?" I asked.
       "Better make it half a dozen," replied Col. Hull
       "Art, you aren't going to believe this," I said as I stuck my head into the drafting room.
       "I know, draw that damn stage again," said Arthur Arthur Arthur. "Why don't we just sit on our asses for a couple hours and let the old man make up his mind about what he wants. It will probably save two or three more changes."
       "I think that this will be the last one," I replied. "We now have Hope, Marilyn Monroe and Les Brown with his whole band, along with a half dozen Generals. Who else could possibly be added?"
       The phone rang, "Make that a dozen Generals in the reviewing stand," said Col. Hull.
       "Make it a dozen Generals," I shouted to the drafting room.
       "You will lose your bet about Bob Hope coming here," I shouted to Red through the closed darkroom door. "There will be at least a dozen generals here."
       "I'll believe it when I see old Ski Nose walk off the plane," came back through the door.
       Three minutes later, the phone rang again, "Senator P. Clayton Twilliger, from Alabama, will also be in the reviewing stand," said Col. Hull.
       "Add one Bowl Weevil Senator in the reviewing stand," I shouted to Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       "And a partridge in a pear tree," sang Arthur Arthur Arthur.
       Col. Hull looked at stage plan set number four and reviewing stand plans number two for a few minutes and signed his name in the lower corner. "Get busy building this as soon as possible as we have only eight days until Hope will be here."
       "We can tear down the old Fire Station to get the lumber we need and start building tomorrow. No way could I get a requisition through for new lumber and start building it before next summer."
       "Scratch one Fire Station," replied Col Hull.

       I must have had fifty men, who had been pulled from the runway project, tearing down the old Fire Station and building the stage and reviewing stand. I looked up to see Col. Hull bounding up in his Jeep for at least the fiftieth time since we started construction.
       "What color?" I asked.
       "Blue," he replied. "But, how did you know that I was coming to tell you to paint it?"
       "Just a lucky guess," I replied. "But we don't have any blue paint. How about olive drab; got lots of that, or yellow."
       "What color would you have if you mixed olive drab and yellow together?" asked Col. Hull.
       "Sort of a baby-shit brown," I replied.
       "Paint it OD and trim it in yellow," he said.
       On December 23rd, the job was finished. The stage was genuine Army olive green in color with bright yellow trim. Red, White and Blue bunting hung from the backdrop and Arthur Arthur Arthur had lettered a huge sign which read, "WELCOME BOB HOPE".
       On the morning of December 24th, every member of the 1903rd pulled out his dress uniform and did his best to remove the wrinkles which had been accumulating while they had been stored in the bottom of duffle bags for the past two months. A powered street sweeper ran up and down the ramp, whisking away the layer of dust which had settled during the night.
       Staff cars began arriving, carrying Bird Colonels and Generals. Jeeps laden with Majors and Captains drove up. There were Navy Officers, Air Force officers, Marine Corps officers and Army officers. A small twin-engine Beechcraft landed and as it taxied up, the pilot placed a red flag containing two gold stars in the bracket above the left window.
       Billy Bob remarked, "There's enough brass around here to make a radiator for a Maxwell.
       "If a war should break out someplace, there wouldn't be anyone to run it. They are all here," I said.
       Trucks and busses emerged from the trail of dust which marked the route of the road to Pusan. Hundreds of servicemen, representing not only the US but several other countries supplying men to the UN forces, arrived for the big show.
       A large number of civilians, both Americans and local, began arriving. Several nurses in their starched white uniforms stood in one group.
       "I'll bet a nurse could make a hell of a lot more money thrashing mattresses over here then she could sticking needles in butts," remarked Billy Bob.
       "And they probably do," replied Red.
       A complete Army Band stepped from its bus, set up to one side of the stage and began to tune their instruments. A huge truck, pulling a trailer which sprouted antennas and speakers from every corner pulled up on the other side.
       A generator fired up in the trailer and military marching music began to belch from the speakers. At least three thousand people had gathered for the show.
       "How about that?" asked Billy Bob. "They send a band and leave them sitting there while they play records. Just like the Army."
       There were UP reporters; there were AP reporters, and there were reporters from Stars and Stripes. It seemed that every 4 X 5 Speed Graphic and 16mm move camera in Korea was there.
       "Well, it looks as if I was wrong about Bob Hope coming," said Red. "Guess that I'd better get positioned out front with all those other photographers if I am going to get any photos."
       The music ceased and a voice came on the speakers, "We are in radio contact with Bob Hope's pilot and they are now crossing the east coast of Korea. They should be here in half an hour."    
       We clustered in small groups, waiting for the arrival of the famous Bob Hope and his troupe. Photographers jostled for positions to give them the best shots. Light readings were taken and cameras checked and rechecked. You could feel the anticipation flowing through the crowd.
       Then, from the east, came the roar of airplane engines. All eyes strained to get the first glimpse of their arrival. Over the horizon came three shining Lockheed Constellations flying in a loose formation. Their spinning propellers reflected the early morning sun. They were being escorted by a dozen Marine Corsairs, flying in tight formations.
       Six F-80 Shooting Star jet fighters zipped back and forth, trailing black smoke from their tailpipes. The Constellations made a large circle around the field while the formation of Corsairs, with their huge engines bellowing at full power, buzzed the runway and pulled up in an arc which took them to a position high above the Constellations. The Shooting Stars swished past the runway at five hundred feet of altitude. The reviewing stand was packed with high-ranking officers, all watching the airplanes through binoculars. Thousands of cameras clicked away at the circling airplanes, however due to their high altitude, they would appear only as specks on the prints.
       We stood in awe as one of the Constellations swung out over the ocean, dropped its landing gear and lowered its flaps for a landing. As the Lockheed, with its three rudders standing high in the air, came gliding in over the waves at the end of the runway; the roar of its four mighty engines suddenly increased and the landing gear folded out of sight. The pilot abandoned his approach and climbed away from the field. When he reached the altitude where the other two ships were circling, they made one more pass across the field as a group and set a course to the north. We stood there and watched them disappear.
       A Sergeant ran from the communications trailer, saluted the dozen or more generals on the reviewing stand and spoke briefly with them. A Captain, who was obviously from Special Services, returned to the trailer with him and made an announcement over the PA system. "The pilot of Bob Hope's airplane called on the radio and said that it would be too dangerous for them to land an airplane that big on a runway such as this, so they have gone directly to Seoul. However, so you will not be disappointed, I am going to personally send a special USO Show, which is waiting in Pusan right now, to entertain all of you brave fighting men. The show will go on immediately after noon."
       The Generals left the reviewing stand and departed in their airplanes and staff cars, the Captains left in their jeeps and everyone else loaded back aboard their trucks and busses. The nurses and the civilians disappeared. The band returned their instruments to their cases and left.
       "See there," said Red Ryder. "I was right. I knew damn well that Bob Hope would never come here."
       "But the Captain from Special Services said that he was sending a special USO Show out here right after noon," I replied.
       "I'll bet that the show that he is sending will be a real winner," said Red. "Did you notice that every one has left except for us, even that Special Services Captain who made the announcement bugged out."
       Perhaps a hundred men were there after lunch to see the replacement show. A weird assemblage of musical instruments stood on the stage. We took our places on the ramp and a strange little man came from behind the backdrop. He hoisted the collection of drums, horns, bells, whistles and other musical gadgets onto his shoulders and introduced himself as George-the-Great and his One-Man-Band. Then he strapped a pair of cymbals to the inside of his knees and began to play his musical junk pile.
       He began his show with a rendition of Jingle Bells, followed by five or six other melodies, all which sounded exactly alike. He finished off his part of the show by telling several very old jokes. We laughed at the jokes, mostly out of sympathy for the guy. Then he introduced the second act, which he called "Erma and Her Magic Dancers".
       A short, fat lady, probably the wife of the One-Man-Band, came out carrying a fiddle. She began to saw away on the fiddle, which reminded one of the sound of cats being beaten to death, while George-the-Great shoved a couple scruffy old red hens onto the stage. They began to jump and hop around to the music. The whole show was over in about twenty minutes, which was just about all that we could take anyway. They received their polite applause, got back on the bus and left.
       "You mean that all we get as a replacement for a Bob Hope show is a One-Man-Band and a dancing chicken act?" asked Billy Bob.
       "The lady with the chickens certainly was no Marilyn Monroe," I said. "Fact is, she was so damn ugly that she would make Eleanor Roosevelt look good. Up till now, Old Lady Roosevelt was the ugliest woman that I ever saw."
       "Hell, even the chickens were better looking than that old broad. The club is open, what say we go get roaring drunk," said Billy Bob.
       Lots of booze passed across the bar, but it failed miserably when it came to producing the desired level of Christmas spirit. It was around eight that night when Billy Bob said, "I'm getting drunker than hell, but I'm not enjoying it."
       "Do you realize that this is the second Christmas in a row that we haven't been home?" I asked.
       "I'm sort of getting used to having Christmas screwed up by the army," he replied. "What did you get from that good looking girlfriend of yours?"
       "About a week ago I got a Dear John Picture Postcard from her. She mailed it to me from her honeymoon with the dumbest shit-face in the world."
       "It would really take something special to make me forget that ugly broad and her damn dancing chickens," said Billy Bob as he tried to change the subject by ordering another round of drinks.
       Someone burst through the door, shouting, "The officer's club is on fire. They lit the candles on their Christmas tree and the whole place went up in flames!"
       "Think that we ought to go up there?" I asked.
       "I knew that something good was bound to come out of a day as bad as this one has been," said Red. "But I never thought that it would be anything as good as the officers burning down their own watering hole. Damn, it tickles the shit out of me to see officers get the short end of a stick now and then."
       "Why should we go. We ain't got no wieners or marsh mallows to roast," replied Billy Bob. "If we go up there, those damn officers will probably want us to help fight the fire."
       "Why don't we do our part by going up and pissing on the embers?" asked Bobby Ward. "At least it would show them how we feel about them and their damn private club."
       "Know what," said Lester. "Since it's Christmas and all that, and the officers burned their place down; we really ought invite the them to come down to our club. Some of them, like Major Parker, are pretty straight shooters."
       "Suppose Captain Fish shows up, he'll drink every drop in the house," said Billy Bob.
       "Long as they pay for what they drink, I say that we invite them here," said Lester.
       Several of us walked up to where most of the officers in the unit were standing around the smoking remains of what had once been their private watering hole. Snow was beginning to fall, erupting into little curls of steam as each flake met its death on a glowing ember.
       "Sorry about fire," I said to Major Parker. "We'd like to invite all of you down to the enlisted club if you care to finish your party."
       "I don't feel much like a party, but I will take you up on the invitation for a drink," he replied.
       Major Parker and I walked back to the enlisted club. "What you drinking, Major?" I asked as I motioned him to a table near the fireplace.
       "Scotch on the rocks," he replied.
       "Double?" I asked.
       "At least a double after everything that has happened today. I thought that nothing could be worse than that dancing chickens, but I suppose that burning down the club tops even that disaster," he replied.
       We were joined by Billy Bob, Lester and Red Ryder as we laughed and talked. Major Parker looked at the Steve Canyon comic strip on the wall and said, "I always wondered if Steve ever got in Summer's pants, and now I know."
       "We are just hoping that the Chaplain never sees it," I replied.
       "Hell, that pious old bastard would probably get a kick out of it. You knew that he just got himself a Korean house girl, didn't you," replied the Major as he finished his drink and stood to leave. "Thanks for the Scotch, Foreman. I'm not feeling very festive tonight, so I think that I'll just wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and head for the sack."
       Col. Hull was huddled with half a dozen other officers over a table in the corner, apparently not wanting to associate with their lowly enlisted hosts. They had their heads together in a guarded conversation which ended abruptly anytime that someone walked near.
       "Wonder what Colonel Asshull is plotting," said Billy Bob.
       "I'll bet that he is up to no good," replied Red Ryder. "I've never trusted that crooked bastard and never will."
       Bobby Ward spoke up, "I got a look at his 201 file and did you know that he promoted himself from 1st Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel on the day before the National Guard was activated. Not only that, but he never made it above the rank of Corporal while on active duty during World War Two."
       Two days later, we were to learn the sad implications of that conversation. Sergeant Owl gave us the news, "Captain Fish asked me to inform the enlisted men that Colonel Hull has decided that, since the officers have had a New Years party planned for several weeks and their club burned, they are going to use the your club for it."
       "Are we invited to the party?" I asked.
       "No, it is a private party for officers only," replied Owl.
       "You mean that we are being kicked out of our own club on New Years Eve, so the officers can have a party?" asked Billy Bob.
       "Not just for New Year, but permanently. It is an officers club now," replied Sergeant Owl.
       "Those miserable, thieving sons of bitches have simply taken our club away from us and there isn't a damn thing that we can do about it," stormed Red.
       "I'd like to take a bulldozer and run it right through the place," said Billy Bob.
       "Careful what you say, Billy Bob, little owls have big ears," I warned him.
       "Why don't you guys cool it and let me handle the matter. I know just what to do," said Lester.
       For the next three days, Lester would leave his tent early each morning with pockets bulging. When he returned an hour later, they would be empty.
       "Care to let me in on what you are doing or is it better that I don't know?" I asked.
       "I have no idea what you are talking about," replied Lester. "All that I can say is that the Officer's New Years Party ought to be one that they will never forget."
       The last day of 1951 arrived at K-1 Airbase, but there was little joy among the enlisted men.
       "This place is the pits without our club," said Billy Bob. "Let's get in Old Paint and go into Pusan or someplace. Even going over to the village to visit Kim Luck and his bunch of ugly whores would beat hanging around here."
       "I think that we should stick around," I suggested. "I have a feeling that things will liven up considerably around midnight."
       At around eight, a bus pulled in, stopped at what used to be the enlisted club and about thirty girls got off. Laughing, squealing and giggling, they entered the building.
       "Would you look at that," said Billy Bob. "They have shipped in a complete whorehouse from Pusan for their party. What a bunch of bastards. I hope that every one of them comes down with a good dose of the clap."
       "The officers must really be a bunch of dirty old men," observed Ward. "Not a single one of those girls could be a day over fifteen."
       A few minutes later, a truck pulled up and half a dozen Koreans jumped to the ground. The hauled musical instruments into the club. In short order, the music began and Billy Bob became even more despondent over the loss of our club. "I still think that I'll fire up a bulldozer and run it right through the middle of the damn place."
       "A stupid act like that will get you nothing except a trip to Leavenworth," said Arthur Arthur Arthur. "I think that Lester has something special in mind when midnight arrives. I'm going to stay awake just in case he does."
 "Where is Lester?" I asked. "I haven't seen him since dark."
       "He's probably just sitting alone in his tent, playing with his explosives," replied Bobby Ward. "Some times, I think that he had rather be with his dynamite than with people."
       We huddled around the pot belly stove and sipped bourbon from canteen cups. Just before midnight, we left the warmth of our tent and walked down the street and stood outside of the club. The building blazed with lights and rocked with music and laughter.
       "Miserable, thieving sons of bitches," muttered Billy Bob.
       At ten seconds before midnight, the green light in the traffic signal flicked off and the yellow light began to tick off the seconds to midnight. The officers started their countdown to the new year, "Nine, eight, seven."
       Lester, who appeared out of the darkness, said, "I think that we should be a little further away and out of sight at the stroke of midnight."
       We stepped out of the street and between some dark tents as the officers continued counting, "Five, four, three."
       "Two, one, Happy New Year!" they shouted. The band stuck the first notes of a Korean version of Auld Lang Syne. The juke box, which had stood silent during the party, came to life. Its neon tubes flashed, electric motors whirred and a record dropped onto the turntable. The most popular record in Korea during that time, "Tokyo Shoeshine Boy", bellowed from the speakers, completely drowning out the band.
       Suddenly, the juke box began to shake and gyrate as if it were a living thing. A cloud of white smoke spewed from beneath it, filling the room with a choking cloud. "Tear gas!" gasped one of the officers and everyone dashed for the door.
       The girls scrambled onto the bus and the driver started the engine. "Look," yelled one of the officers. "The girls are getting away."
       The band staggered from the cloud of tear gas, dragging their instruments with them. They tossed them onto their truck and roared away into the darkness.
       It became very quiet for a few seconds and the coughing and gagging officers, who were huddled in a group some fifty yards away, stared at the haunted building. Without warning, a single, loud explosion sent the corrugated steel roof flying into the air. As the roof reached the apogee of its flight, four simultaneous blasts erupted, neatly blowing away each corner of the building. The four walls sort of melted slowly inward toward each other, reducing themselves to nothing more than sticks of kindling. The splintered boards and corrugated steel of the roof crashed down on the shattered walls. Finally, with a shuddering blast, the fireplace became a storm of flying stones and all was quiet.
       "What the hell happened?" asked one of the stunned officers.
       "My God, I never saw anything like it," said another.
       "Must have been an air raid or else we have just been shelled by artillery," gasped a shell-shocked Lieutenant.
       "It's a wonder that we weren't all killed," said another.
       "Was anyone hurt," asked Col. Hull.
       "Not a scratch," answered one of the officers. "But the girls all ran away when the tear gas came; and we had already paid them for all night."
       "The band is gone too," said another.
       "Must have been Piss Call Charlie," said Colonel Hull. "But he usually comes early in the morning. Who would have expected him at midnight."
       "It's got to have been Piss Call Charlie," replied another officer. "We're at least two hundred miles from any enemy artillery."
       "What amazes me," said Col. Hull, "Is how he managed to get in here, drop his bombs and escape without being heard.
       Fingers of flame began to lick at the shattered lumber and soon the whole pile of rubble was a blazing inferno, filling the night with smoke and dancing red flames.
       "The fire will take care of any remaining evidence," said Lester.
       "What evidence?" asked Billy Bob. "I thought that Piss Call Charlie bombed it."
       "I told you that a New York City traffic signal could be programmed to do just about anything," whispered Lester. Combined with several yards of primer cord and a few pounds of TNT, it allowed me to administer a bit of justice where justice was due. Too bad that it and the juke box had to go along with the building. Happy New Year."

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