No one seemed to know where they came from or how
they got there, but there was about a dozen wild monkeys which ran free around K-1
Airbase. They certainly weren't native to Korea, so must have been brought in as pets by
earlier occupants of the base. These filthy little creatures were about the size of a
large house cat. They had tiny little heads in comparison to the size of their bodies and
bright red butts. They were as wild as a box of snakes and spent most of their time
picking fleas off one another or playing with themselves while perched on top of the old
control tower. If they weren't scampering around the control tower, they were skittering
along the wires from the top of one power pole to the next, looking for some kind of
mischief to get into.
These monkeys were notorious for entering deserted
tents and literally wrecking the place in search of candy, cookies or other goodies. Some
people put out food and tried to coax the little critters to them, but they were extremely
wary and wouldn't come down from their lofty perches to get it unless everyone moved at
least fifty feet away.
One morning, I saw Red Ryder walking down the company
street with one of the monkeys perched on each shoulder. They seemed to be very happy and
completely at ease. "How in the world did you get those wild things to sit on your
shoulders?" I asked.
"No problem," he replied. "I told you
guys that I could tame anything and these monkeys are much easier to handle than some
other animals that I've dealt with."
"Now that you have them tamed, what are you
planning to do with them?" I asked.
"I'm going into the monkey business," he
replied. "You know that most of the airplanes that fly to Korea from Japan or Formosa
have to land here for fuel before going on north. I plan to sell at least one monkey to
each of them as a mascot."
"From what I've seen, those damn monkeys are
pretty wild and mean. How do you go about catching them?"
"It's simple to catch a monkey, you just gotta
be smarter than it is," replied Red. "You take a box and cut a hole in it just
big enough for the monkey to stick its hand through, then you put an orange or apple
inside. The monkey sticks his hand in to get the fruit. He can't get his hand back out
while holding the fruit and is too stupid to let go. All that I have to do is walk up and
pick him up."
"How do you keep those mean little shits from
biting you?" I asked. I know a little about wild monkeys and they turn into real buzz
saws when you try to hold them."
"That is my secret," replied Red as he
I hadn't thought much about Red's monkey business
until a few weeks later when an Air Force Lieutenant wearing pilot's wings and a cap with
a 50 Mission crush, stormed into my office. He had three or four bandages on his face, one
across the end of his nose and another on his right ear. Monkey shit was smeared from one
end of his leather flight jacket to the other.
"Sergeant," he shouted, "I'm looking
for a red headed little son of a bitch who calls himself the monkey man. Where the hell is
"What seems to be the matter, Lieutenant?"
"The matter is that miserable little bastard was
just down on the flight line and sold me a monkey named "Ace" for fifty bucks.
Said that all of the pilots coming to Korea bought one as a mascot."
There was no question in my mind who the pilot was
looking for, but I wasn't about to give him any help in finding Red. "Well,
Lieutenant. What makes you think that I would know anything about this person?"
"The man fueling my plane said that he was one
of you engineers and the sign on the door says Engineering," he replied.
"This is the engineering section of the 1903rd,
Engineer Aviation Battalion, but we have something like a thousand men assigned to us.
Besides, if you have already bought a monkey, why are you so interested in finding
him?" I asked.
"As soon as I had given him the fifty bucks for
the monkey and he walked away, it went crazy, shit all over my jacket and bit the hell out
of me. Then it ran away and the last time that I saw the little bastard, it was sitting on
top of the control tower, playing with itself."
"Well, gosh, Lieutenant," I replied.
"I'm sorry that you lost your mascot, but it seems to me that if you took possession
of the monkey after paying for it, whatever happened after that would be your
"If I didn't have to report in at Kimpo in two
hours, I'd find that damn monkey man and pound the shit out of him till I got my fifty
bucks back," said the pilot as he stormed out the door.
A few minutes after the mad Lieutenant had left, I
tapped on the darkroom door, "Hey Red, you in there?"
"Is he gone?" came from the darkroom.
"Yeah, and you can thank me for saving your ass.
That Air Force Fighter Jock was big and mean and mad as hell," I replied. "He
said that you sold him a monkey named "Ace" and it nearly ate him up then ran
away. He wanted his money back, along with about an acre of your hide."
The door opened an inch and Red said, "Some
people are just sore losers. I've sold that same monkey at least half a dozen times before
but he is the only one who got pissed when it ran away. Ace is really a nice monkey and
wouldn't have bit him if he hadn't tried to hang onto it."
"You mean that you knew that it was going to run
away after you sold it?" I asked.
"Hell yes, if they didn't run away, I'd be out
of business before long. There's only eleven monkeys on the whole base and I sell half of
that number each time a squadron lands here."
"Isn't it awfully dangerous when the monkeys to
bite people?" I asked.
"Sure is," replied Red. "The poor
little bastards are likely to catch rabies or something worse from biting officers."
The primary mission of the 1903rd at K-1 was supposed
to be the rebuilding of the taxiway and construction of a 500 foot extension at each end
of the runway. However, just as at Beale, the Air Force seemed to have no idea whatsoever
as to the limitations of an engineering unit. By the middle of February, we had also been
given at least half a dozen additional projects. We were to completely rebuild the base
Operations Building, build a three mile road around the south part of the base, build
wooden frames and floors for some 200 tents, fence the motor pool area and repave the
parking ramp. No raw materials were available locally for these projects, so we had to set
up a complete rock quarry and gravel pit some two miles from the base.
In order to keep up with the demanding schedule, the
entire battalion went on a twelve hour day, seven day work week. No sooner had we done
this than the Air Force sent down a directive that we would be expected to supply base
security as well as security for any aircraft which might be on the base. Although we were
about two hundred men under authorized strength, we had to remove one officer and thirty
enlisted men from construction duties in order to form a Provost Marshal detachment.
Very few weeks went by before we were forced to go on
double 12 hour shifts each day in order to keep up with the work load. Half of us would
work from noon till midnight and the other half would work the other shift. As a result,
the mess hall was forced to serve four meals each day. At both noon and midnight,
breakfast was available till the hour of twelve, after which it was possible to get
nothing but the dinner menu. The problem with this arrangement was the fact that the cooks
began to serve their weekly ration of mutton only during the midnight meal. Those of us
who got off work at midnight were faced with a nightly fare of Australian goat.
One night, as we approached the mess hall, that all
too familiar odor of cooking mutton came wafting in on the wind to let us know what was in
store for dinner.
"Well, it smells like we are in for roast goat
again," said Billy Bob.
"I've eaten so damn much mutton that I wake up
in the middle of the night, dreaming that there is a sheep in the tent," I replied.
"Isn't there any way that we can get the cooks
to serve some of the mutton at noon, so it gets spread around and the night shift doesn't
have to eat it all?" asked Lester.
"I've complained about that to the Mess
Sergeant, but it fell on deaf ears. The officers all eat at noon, so that is probably the
reason that it is served only at midnight," I replied.
We arrived at the door of the mess hall and Billy Bob
shouted, "Do you know how to get the cook's goat?"
"No, how do you get the cook's goat?" I
answered in a loud voice.
"You wait till he ties it up and then you grab
it and run," yelled Billy Bob.
"If you swiped the cook's goat, then who would
he sleep with?" yelled Lester.
"He only sleeps with the pretty ones, he feeds
the ugly ones to us," shouted Billy Bob.
Then we began to sing in unison, "Baaa Baaa
I tried to open the mess hall door, but it was locked
from the inside. "When you bastards decide to act like humans and stop that damn
bleating, I'll let you in, and not before," shouted the Mess Sergeant from behind the
We sat down on the ground outside the door and began
a chorus of Baaas. It was a Mexican standoff; us on the outside and the Mess Sergeant on
the inside, with neither willing to give an inch.
A jeep drove up and Major Parker got out, "What
is going on here? I heard all the noise and came to see what was the matter," he
"The cook won't let us in to eat, Sir" we
The Major walked to the door and hammered on it with
his fist. "I demand that you open this door right now," he ordered.
The Mess Sergeant, not realizing who was the owner of
the voice, shouted back, "You'll eat this fucking goat or do without. When you shut
up that damn bleating, I'll let you in."
"A couple of you men break down this door,"
ordered Major Parker as he stepped out of the way.
Billy Bob and I lowered our shoulders and charged the
door. It turned into a hail of splinters as we crashed through. We stepped back and Major
Parker walked in ahead of us, picked up a tray and went through the serving line. When he
reached the end of the line, he sniffed the mutton on his tray and proceeded to dump it
into the garbage. Each of us followed his lead and soon the entire pile of roast mutton
had been transferred from the steam table to the garbage pail.
Major Parker went to the Mess Sergeant and said,
"I realize that you have to serve a certain amount of mutton, but from here on, you
will spread it out over all meals, and that way, no one group will have to eat it
One of our greatest problems in making progress on
the engineering projects was the fact that we simply were not able to obtain needed spare
parts for broken equipment. The Army would supply absolutely nothing, even though what we
needed was available only a few miles away at the Masan Supply Depot. The Air Force didn't
even have catalogs from which to requisition parts for engineering equipment. At one
point, a full fifty percent of all heavy equipment in the battalion was on deadline
because of lack of parts.
One day, Billy Bob dropped by my office. "Care
to go for a little ride with me?" he asked.
"Where are we going?"
"I'm going to steal a bulldozer," he
replied. "I have every bulldozer in the unit on deadline because the hard rock at the
quarry wears away the blades and I can't get new ones."
"You mean that you are going to steal a whole
bulldozer?" I asked.
"Not exactly steal one, just sort of trade an
old one for a new one." he replied. "There is a whole row of brand new D-8s
parked at the depot over at Masan. I'll drive in with one of our worn out dozers on the
truck, along with a requisition for mess hall supplies. The guard will make a note of its
serial number on the truck that I will be driving, as well as that on the dozer. Once
inside, we will drive over to where the new units are parked, unload our old one, drive a
new one back on and drive back out."
"How are you going to handle the serial
numbers?" I asked.
"Simple. That is why I need you to go along with
me. I need your help to swap the engine hoods, which has the serial numbers painted them.
Those jug heads at the gate will never know the difference. Those new dozers will never be
issued to anyone and will probably be left here as junk when the war is over and we
In a period of two weeks, Billy Bob had replaced
almost the full complement of the unit's bulldozers. As time went along he executed the
same old switch game with several jeeps and truck as well as simply stealing the only 40
Ton crane in Korea. I suppose that no one was ever got wise to the scam.
Even working double shifts and reassigning men from
one job to another, we were barely able to keep up with the deadlines which had been set
for us. But it seemed that every time that we began to catch up, the Air Force would find
several other projects to hand to us.
A disabled bomber was returning to K-9 Airbase, some
twenty miles away, and crash landed on their only runway, ripping up about 3000 feet of
pierced steel planking. We received an urgent call for help and immediately dispatched
about half of our Company "B" to make repairs. Three hours after the men
arrived, the runway was back in usable condition. The Commanding Officer of the 452nd Bomb
Wing presented us with a unit commendation for our efforts. Also, as a reward for our
making such speedy repairs, we were immediately assigned several other projects at K-9.
One of these projects which was to complete the
assembly and erection of a prefabricated steel hangar which the Air Force had been working
on for more than two months. "Their main problem," said Major Parker, "Is
that they don't know the difference between an erection manual and a manual erection. From
what I can see, about all that they have been doing is playing with themselves."
We completed the job in only six days, including the
time that it took for us to disassemble the portion which the Air Force had put together.
Had they ever been able to erect the hangar, all of the walk-through doors would have been
twelve feet off the ground.
The Air Force assigned so many projects to us at K-9
that we finally had to send the entire Company "B" there on a more or less
In short order after Company "B" went to
K-9, the Air Force sent down requests for company strength units to be sent to work at
other airbases. Company "C" was sent K-3 Airbase, located on the east coast of
Korea near the village of Pohang Tek and Company "A" was dispatched to K-2
Airbase at Taegu. In order to maintain progress at K-1, we pulled enough people from each
of the assigned line companies and formed an additional "D" Company.
As the Battalion's Construction Supervisor, I found
that I was having to constantly travel from one company to another in order to keep up
with my job. There were times when I would be away from my desk for as long as three weeks
at a time. Naturally, my desk work piled higher and higher.
More or less as a joke, someone down at the carpenter
shop built a rather unusual IN and OUT box for me. The bottom of the upper "IN"
box was hinged and fitted with a small spring which held it closed when there was no
weight in it. Whenever any weight was put in the "IN" box, the bottom would open
and dump it into the "OUT" box and then snap back closed.
One day, when an Air Force Colonel was in my office,
the distribution clerk came by, dropped a stack of papers into my "IN" box.
Flip-flop-dump went the bottom and everything dropped into the "OUT" box. The
distribution clerk picked up what he had just deposited and walked out. The Colonel pushed
down on the bottom with his finger, and for some reason known only to high ranking
officers, failed to see the humor in it and really chewed me a new one.
There were three modes of travel in Korea: by Jeep at
the Korean National Speed Limit of 15 miles per hour over really terrible roads, by Korean
trains or by catching a ride on military aircraft. While bouncing from one company to
another, I utilized all three of these methods of travel.
Shortly after I became the Construction Supervisor,
they assigned a young Korean man to me as a combination driver and interpreter. His name
was Kim Duk, a very bright young cadet who was attending the Korean Military University,
which is something like West Point is to the U.S. Army. He was serving a six month
internship with the UN Forces before he graduated. His worst problem as a driver was that
any time that he got behind the wheel of the Jeep, he turned into a Barney Oldfield. He
would turn his cap backwards and shout, "Brroom, Brroom, Honk! Honk!" as he
roared away in a cloud of flying gravel. He drove with one hand on the horn button and the
gas pedal to the floor, whipping through traffic and bounding across intersections without
looking. After one trip to Pusan with him as my driver, he was demoted to the rank of
Co-Pilot and interpreter.
Kim became my traveling companion, friend and
confidant during the following six months. He was anxious to learn English and in return,
taught me much about the culture and language of Korea. One day he was reading a magazine
and asked, "What is Egg Wiped?"
"I have no idea what you are talking
about," I replied. "Spell it and perhaps I can help you."
He spelled the word, "Egypt."
Only after he had gone back to the University, did I
learn that he was the son of the man who was Vice President of Korea at the time. I met
Kim some twenty years later, when he visited the United States. He was then a Brigadier
General in the Korean Air Force.
Riding the Korean National Railroad was a study in
frustration, culture and tenacity. The schedule went something like this: If the train was
in the station, it might leave sometime. If it was not in the station, it might arrive
sometime. No one seemed to know or care if there was a schedule to its operation.
Finding a seat on the train was impossible as it
usually carried about ten times as many people as it had seats. Riders jammed body to body
in the aisles and clung to the outside as it jerked and bounced along, stopping only for
breakdowns, or to take on water or coal. The rest of the time, it crept along slowly
enough that people could usually hop on or off without fear of getting injured. The Korean
train was referred to as the Toonerville Trolley and we rode it only as a last resort.
There seemed to be a definite division between the
Marines and the Air Force when it came to air travel during the Korean war. If one was
traveling from one point inside Korea to another, he traveled with the Marines. If they
were going from Korea to Japan, Formosa or Hong Kong, he would go to the Air Force for air
If traveling from someplace like Seoul to Pusan, one
could find Marine C-46s going four or five times each day. However, if you wanted to get
to or from the more remote places like Pohang Tek, you might have to change planes four or
five times and fly from one end of Korea to the other.
One time, when I had gone to visit some of my section
which was surveying off a new runway at Osan, Red Ryder went along to take progress
photos. We were over on the side of the field which was occupied by the Marines, waiting
to catch a plane. There must have been around 200 servicemen waiting for flights to
While we waited, a small Beechcraft C-45 came taxiing
up. Mounted in a clip above the pilot's window, flew a red flag containing a single gold
star. The plane was obviously assigned to some Marine General for his personal
transportation. A staff car, also flying a general's flag, drove onto the ramp.
Red Ryder, who always wore field pants, a sweater and
no cap, looked far more like an Associated Press Reporter than a soldier. He grabbed his
camera case and pushed through the crowd to get near the general as he climbed out of the
staff car. Red hauled out his big, 4X5 Speed Graphic camera and a handful of film holders.
I wondered to myself, "Why in hell does Red want a picture of some Marine
I suppose that the General figured that any publicity
was good publicity, so he stopped to allow Red to get his photos. Red had the driver back
the car around to a spot in front of the airplane which was waiting with its engines
ticking over. Then Red had the General strike a number of different poses, none of which
seemed to suit him. He had the General straighten his tie, align the windshield wiper
blades on the staff car and finally remove his sun glasses.
It was difficult to determine which was getting the
hotter with all of the delay, the General or the engines on the airplane. The pilot kept
leaning out the window of the plane to see what was keeping the General from getting
aboard. Occasionally, he would have to rev up the engines in an effort to force some
cooling air over the hot cylinders.
By this time, all 200 or more people who were waiting
for planes had formed a semi-circle behind Red to watch what was going on. Never, in all
the time that I had known Red, had he ever taken this much time and trouble to set up any
photo, much less one of some obscure General.
Red took some more light readings with his meter,
slipped a filter onto the lens, took another light reading and finally shoved a film
holder into the camera. He lifted the heavy camera to his eye and squinted through the
viewer. Then, without clicking the shutter, he lowered the camera and said, "Well
shit, just a fucking, insignificant little one-star."
Red snatched up his camera case and disappeared
through the wall of waiting troops, leaving the bewildered General standing in a stiff
pose beside his staff car. At first, the General didn't move, just sort of stood there
with his face getting redder and redder with each passing second while he searched the
crowd for his tormentor. Unable to locate Red who was close to a foot shorter then most
people; he whirled, jumped into the waiting airplane and slammed the door. The staff car
roared up the hill toward Base Headquarters and the airplane taxied rapidly toward the
Later, when I found Red, he was laughing like an
idiot. "Boy, did you see the look on that old fart's face when I called him an
insignificant one-star? I'll bet that he shit his pants."
"If he had gotten hold of you, he would have
hung your ass out to dry," I replied.
"Yeah, I know, but it was worth the risk just to
see that look on his face," replied Red. "Damn, but I love to bug officers, and
the bigger they are, the better I like it."
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