by Jim Foreman


It was early April and the cold weather of winter was giving up its hold on the land. But, the most pleasant part of the arrival of spring meant that our tour of duty was finally approaching an end and we were expecting orders to go home to arrive any day.
       Corporal Bolinger, the mail clerk, came through my office and dropped my mail on the desk. "Did you hear the news?" he asked.
       "What news?"
       "They just extended us draftees another three months. We're now in for 21 months and won't be going home this month."
       "Hell, it doesn't surprise me in the least. They will just keep extending us three months at a time until the war is finally over. The way things are going, we may be here for ten years."
       I thumbed through my mail. There were two copies of the hometown newspaper, both over a month old and a letter from my mother, which contained much more up to date news in the form of a small clipping from the hospital report column. "Born to Mr. and Mrs. Bucky Groves on April 1, a 7 pound, 11 ounce baby boy."
       I looked at the date and counted up the months since I'd last seen her. Well, how about that! No wonder Janet wasn't worried about getting pregnant at Lake Tahoe, she was already nearly three months along. One thing for sure is that a nearly eight pound baby certainly wasn't premature, so it couldn't be mine. There's also a pretty good chance that it isn't Bucky's either. You might call the baby Bucky's April fool present. Old eraser beating Bucky was always so stupid that he'd believe that babies can come along in as little as six months. Janet probably gave him a little nookey one night and then suggested that they run off and get married. Whether he knew it or not, he's the kind of person who'd jump at the opportunity to marry the prettiest girl in town, no matter how pregnant she might be at the time. Two things for sure is that she didn't save it all for her wedding night and I wasn't the first one to get in her pants.

       Billy Bob, who was now in charge of the whole maintenance section at the motor pool, and I were both promoted to Master Sergeant on the same orders, so we decided that it was high time that we do something to celebrate the occasion.
       Billy Bob suggested, "Let's get in Old Paint, go to Pusan and see what kind of trouble that we can get into."
       "That is a good way to lose these new stripes," I replied. "We have been in Korea for nearly six months and are far overdue for an R&R to Japan. Let's ask the old man for about a week off."
       "Good idea," replied Billy Bob. "I've never been so tired of nothing but Australian mutton, busted equipment, rain and mud in all my life. Let someone else have the headaches for a while."
       "Well, as for myself, I'd give almost anything for a real Texas-size steak, some fresh vegetables and a glass of milk."
       "And real eggs that come right out of a shell and aren't served in little cubes," added Billy Bob.
       We pulled our wrinkled dress uniforms out of our duffle bags and took them into the village to get our new stripes sewn on and have them cleaned and pressed. The village, which was situated just outside the gate, was typical of what could be found just outside every military installation in Korea. The bigger the base, the bigger the village. There was always a laundry and cleaning shop, a bar called Rosy's, a curio shop and the ever-present whorehouse. The village outside K-1 was no exception.
       The Korean businessmen were famous for their signs, which displayed disclaimer messages in both Korean and English. Unfortunately, some of the English translations weren't always in what might be known as the proper King's English. This laundry had a huge sign which warned one and all, "THE MANAGEMENT OF THIS CLEANING INSTITUTION IS TOTALLY IRRESPONSIBLE IN THE EVENT OF FIREMEN OR THIEVES".
       Dressed in our genuine Army best, and clutching our precious R&R orders, we hopped a ride aboard a truck bound for K-9 Airbase where we could catch an Air Force airplane to Tokyo. A few hours later, we were winging our way eastward across the Sea of Japan with seven whole days of anticipated wine, women and song.
       Since we were Master Sergeants, we were offered very nice individual rooms at the Air Force Base to use during our stay, but as Billy Bob put it, "That is still too much like being in the Army. They probably blow bugles or something every morning."
       We caught a taxi to downtown Tokyo and checked into one of the better hotels located right on the Ghinza. Search as we would, we couldn't find a single restaurant which served real steaks. "I suppose that when in Rome, do as the Romans do," said Billy Bob and we settled for eating in a very nice looking Japanese restaurant. We removed our shoes and were escorted to a low table with cushions to sit on.
       The menu was all in Japanese, so we asked the waiter, who spoke fairly good English, to bring us whatever he recommended. After a small salad, thin soup and some fishy-tasting snacks wrapped in seaweed, he brought on the main course. It was a typical Japanese dinner, mostly vegetables with bits of meat. Two or three bites later, I found something in my mouth which looked, felt and tasted like the strap from some hippie's flip-flop. Laying it on the side of my plate, I asked the waiter what it was.
       He smiled, bowed and said, "You are lucky, you got squid."
       The squid remained on the side of my plate while I carefully ate the remainder of my dinner.
       We bought a few trinkets, some dishes which we had shipped home and stopped off at one of the many dance halls. The music was loud, the girls only moderately attractive and the drinks very expensive. I looked at Billy Bob and asked, "Well, Billy Bob, are we having fun yet?"
       When we returned to the hotel, we asked the manager for some suggestions of what to do while in Japan. He replied, "I get you nice girls, all virgins, no VD."
       "No thanks," I replied.
       "What matter?" he asked. "You no like virgin girls. I get you virgin young boys. You like boys."
       "No, we don't want boys either. We just want to see or do something while we are here," I replied.  
       "I know what you can do," said the man. "You can climb Fujiyama. There is old saying in Japan. There is no greater fool than the man who has not climbed Fujiyama."
       "I've raced up Pikes Peak," I said. "So I might as well climb Fujiyama while I'm here. I certainly don't want to be known as a fool because I had the chance and didn't climb it."
       The arrangements, which cost us ten dollars, were made and we boarded a train the following morning for the fifty mile ride to the base of the 12,000 foot mountain. The day was clear, the air was balmy and we were ready to begin our assault on the peak. The only problem was the fact that one must do certain things before he is allowed to scale Fujiyama.
       If you think that you have seen tourist traps here in the United States, then you ain't seen nothing when it comes to extracting money from the tourists who come to climb Fujiyama. First, you must go into a shrine where you are prayed for, blessed and anointed with some sort of smelly oil; to the tune of about ten bucks each. Then, we found that we still could not climb the mountain until we bought a genuine prayer flag and a bamboo walking staff, which went for another five dollars each.
       We were now blessed, anointed, equipped with prayer flag and had a walking stick but there was more. "You must have a guide so you do not get lost during your climb," we were told.
       "I don't think that we will get lost," I told the man. "We will just follow the trail."
       "But it is the law. You cannot climb Fujiyama without a guide," he told us.
       "How much?" I asked.
       "Ten United States Dollar," he said with a deep bow.
       "For both of us?"
       "Ten Dollar for each guide. One guide for each person," he replied. "It is the law," he added.
       "This is getting to be a little ridiculous," I told Billy Bob. "Shall we scrap the whole thing and go back to Tokyo?"
       "We are already fifty bucks into this thing, so we might as well go ahead. It can't cost us much more," he reasoned.
       "OK, two guides," I told him.
       He trotted out a couple boys, neither of whom could have been a day over twelve years old, and told us that they would guide up to the resting place. I should have picked up on that last statement about the resting place, but we were anxious to get started. I did notice that neither of our young guides were equipped with the required prayer flag and walking stick. I suppose that prayers and sticks are only necessary for tourists.
       Ready to go? Not quite! Seems that we have to wait until there is a group of sufficient size to go up and the group must have a senior guide to lead them. Cost of the senior guide; another dollar for each person in the group.
       "At least the price is getting cheaper," said Billy Bob.
       "Not necessarily," I replied. "Just spread out over more people."
       The Senior Guide led his group of fifty people along a well-marked trail on their trek up the mountain. Our youthful guides spent most of their time racing ahead and playing with other equally youthful guides. This was probably the main source of employment for all of the boys in the village.
       We had walked four or five miles up a very gentle trail when we came upon a large building, where the Senior Guide announced that we would stop for lunch. After three or four other groups arrived, we were served box lunches, to the tune of three dollars each. After lunch, the Senior Guides announced that it was rest time and we would resume our climb in one hour.
       "This is as bad as the Army," said Billy Bob. "This climb is nothing but hurry up and wait."
       It was around four in the afternoon when we came to the 8,000 foot level of the 12,000 foot mountain. There, we found a huge hotel, complete with a restaurant and a large staff. The Senior Guide announced that we would stay here for the night.
       I asked him why we were stopping so early and he replied, "To allow the guides time to return to the bottom of the mountain so they can go home before dark."
       "Are they returning tomorrow morning?" I asked.
       He replied, "Yes, with a new group which will be climbing the mountain."
       "Who will be guiding us the rest of the way?"
       "You will need more experienced guides for the second half of the climb," he replied.
       We spent the night at the hotel, which cost about twice what we were paying for our room back in Tokyo. Following breakfast the next morning we were assembled and told, "Prayer time."
       "I think that I've had all the prayers that I need to get me all the way to the top," I told him.
       "But you must have the prayers for today. Yesterday's prayers no good for today. Prayers good for only one day in Japan. Without new prayers, evil things will happen to you."
       "If you keep trying to pry money out of us, evil things will happen to you," I replied.
       Soon, there was a new man there, telling us that he had guides for hire so we could continue our climb.
       "I think that we will just follow the Senior Guide," I told him.
       "But it is the law that each person must have a guide," he protested. "You will not be allowed to continue without one."
       "How much?" I asked.
       "Five U.S. dollar each," he replied.
       "We will give you two bucks for two guides, not a cent more," I told him.
       "But all guides get five U.S. Dollar," he protested. "It is the law!"
       "Piss on you and the law. Take it or leave it."
       He shrugged his shoulders and took our two dollars. Soon, we were joined by the same two kids that had been with us the day before. "Papasan say that you GIs cheapskate bastards," said one of them.
       "Perhaps we should have been hoss-trading with these high-binders on their prices all the time," said Billy Bob.
       We had climbed to the 9,000 foot level by noon and the Senior Guide announced that it was time to stop for lunch. As soon as we had eaten our box lunch, which cost four dollars each this time, he pointed to a different trail and told us "Climb over, take this trail back to the bottom of the mountain."
       "But we aren't all the way to the top," I protested. "I wanted to go all the way to the top."
       "This is as high as tourists are allowed to go, too dangerous," replied the Senior Guide.
       We looked around for our guides, but they were nowhere to be found. We walked down the well-marked trail and Billy Bob remarked, "You don't seem to need a guide to get back down, do you."
       When we added up all the costs associated with climbing Fujiyama, we found that we had been taken for nearly a hundred dollars each. Billy Bob came up with an addendum to the old Japanese saying, "There is no greater fool than the man who has not climbed Fujiyama, unless it is the man who had climbed it twice."
       Having spent most of our available money climbing Fujiyama, we decided to check out of the hotel and catch the train back to the Air Force Base where the free rooms had been offered to us when we arrived. Being Master Sergeants, we were welcome at the "Rocker Club" which was for the upper three enlisted grades. We had huge steaks for a buck each and mixed drinks were only two bits.
       While staying in the NCO quarters at the Air Force Base, we visited the biggest and best stocked PX that either of had ever seen. I bought a Japanese copy of a German Leica camera and Billy Bob bought a Japanese copy of a Japanese record player.
       Suddenly, the week was over and we were flying back to the mud, rain and mosquitoes of K-1.

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